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Android Malware Targets North Korean Deflectors

Recent attacks orchestrated by a hacking group referred to as “Sun Team” have targeted North Korean deflectors via malicious applications in the Google Play store, McAfee reports.

Referred to as RedDawn, this is the second campaign attributed to the group this year, but is the first to abuse the legitimate Google Play storefront for malware distribution. In January, the security firm revealed that North Korean deflectors and journalists were being targeted via social networks, email, and chat apps.

McAfee’s security researchers found the malware uploaded on Google Play as ‘unreleased’ versions and reports that only around 100 infections occurred via the application marketplace. Google has already removed the malicious programs.

Once installed, the malware starts copying sensitive information from the device, including personal photos, contacts, and SMS messages, and then sends them to the threat actors.

McAfee found that the hackers managed to upload three applications to Google Play – based on the email accounts and Android devices used in the previous attack. The apps include Food Ingredients Info, Fast AppLock, and AppLockFree. They stayed in Google Play for about 2 months before being removed.

Food Ingredients Info and Fast AppLock can “secretly steal device information and receive commands and additional executable (.dex) files from a cloud control server. We believe that these apps are multi-staged, with several components,” McAfee reports.

AppLockFree, on the other hand, appears to be part of the reconnaissance stage, setting the foundation for additional malware. The malicious programs would “spread to friends, asking them to install the apps and offer feedback via a Facebook account with a fake profile” that promoted Food Ingredients Info.

“After infecting a device, the malware uses Dropbox and Yandex to upload data and issue commands, including additional plug-in dex files; this is a similar tactic to earlier Sun Team attacks. From these cloud storage sites, we found information logs from the same test Android devices that Sun Team used for the malware campaign we reported in January,” McAfee reports.

The logs have a similar format and use the same abbreviations as in other logs previously associated with Sun Team. Furthermore, the hackers used already known Sun Team email addresses for the malware’s developer.

The group’s malware has been active since 2017 and went through multiple versions since. The hackers continue to focus on extracting information from infected devices (they only use spyware).

The same as in previous attacks, the new malware showed the use of Korean words and the Dropbox account naming used a similar pattern of celebrity names. This suggests that the actors are not native South Korean, but familiar with the culture and language.

The researchers also discovered that the Android devices the attackers tested their malware on are “manufactured in several countries and carry installed Korean apps.” Exploit code found in a cloud storage revealed modified “versions of publicly available sandbox escape, privilege escalation, code execution exploits” with added functions to drop custom Trojans on infected devices.

“The modified exploits suggest that the attackers are not skillful enough to find zero days and write their own exploits. However, it is likely just a matter of time before they start to exploit vulnerabilities,” the researchers note.

The Sun Team hackers were observed creating fake accounts using photos from social networks and the identities of South Koreans. In addition to stealing identities, the hackers are using texting and calling services to generate virtual phone numbers that allow them to sign up for online services in South Korea.

Related: Highly Targeted Attacks Hit North Korean Defectors

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