Security Experts:

Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

SecurityWeekSecurityWeek

Cyberwarfare

‘DarkHotel’ APT Uses New Methods to Target Politicians

The DarkHotel threat group has been using some new methods in attacks aimed at government employees with an interest in North Korea, according to a report published this week by security firm Bitdefender.

The DarkHotel threat group has been using some new methods in attacks aimed at government employees with an interest in North Korea, according to a report published this week by security firm Bitdefender.

The activities of the DarkHotel advanced persistent threat (APT) actor came to light in November 2014, when Kaspersky published a report detailing a sophisticated cyber espionage campaign targeting business travelers in the Asia-Pacific region. The group has been around for nearly a decade and some researchers believe its members are Korean speakers.

The attackers targeted their victims using several methods, including through their hotel’s Wi-Fi, zero-day exploits and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing websites. Nearly one year later, the threat group was observed using new attack techniques and an exploit leaked from Italian spyware maker Hacking Team.

DarkHotel victims have been spotted in several countries, including North Korea, Russia, South Korea, Japan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Taiwan, China, the United States, India, Mozambique, Indonesia and Germany. Up until recently, the attacks appeared to focus on company executives, researchers and development personnel from sectors such as defense industrial base, military, energy, government, NGOs, electronics manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and medical.

In more recent DarkHotel attacks it has dubbed “Inexsmar,” security firm Bitdefender said the hackers targeted political figures, and they appeared to be using some new methods.

Bitdefender’s analysis is based on samples from September 2016. The initial Trojan downloader, delivered via phishing emails, collects information on the infected device and sends it back to its command and control (C&C) server. If the compromised system meets requirements (i.e. it belongs to an individual who is of interest), the first stage DarkHotel downloader, disguised as a component of OpenSSL, is fetched.

In the meantime, in an effort to avoid raising suspicion, the malware opens a document titled “Pyongyang e-mail lists – September 2016,” which provides a list of email contacts for various organizations in North Korea’s capital city.

If the system profile does not match what the attackers are looking for, the C&C server returns a “fail” string and the attack stops. If the attack continues, a second payload is retrieved.

When Bitdefender analyzed the malware samples, the C&C server was offline, making it impossible to know exactly who the victims were and how much damage was caused. However, Bitdefender’s Bogdan Botezatu told SecurityWeek that, based on the structure of the phishing message, the intended targets are most likely individuals working for governments or state institutions who have an interest in the political situation in North Korea.

Experts believe that the use of social engineering and a multi-stage downloader is an improvement compared to the direct use of exploits as it gives the attackers more flexibility in malware distribution and ensures that the Trojan remains up to date.

Related: Jaku Botnet – Active Operation With Possible Links to Darkhotel APT Group

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

Click to comment

Expert Insights

Related Content

Nation-State

The North Korean APT tracked as TA444 is either moonlighting from its previous primary purpose, expanding its attack repertoire, or is being impersonated by...

Nation-State

FBI says a North Korea-linked threat group known as Lazarus and APT38 is behind the $100 million Horizon bridge cryptocurrency heist.

Malware & Threats

Microsoft plans to improve the protection of Office users by blocking XLL add-ins from the internet.

Cyberwarfare

Websites of German airports, administration bodies and banks were hit by DDoS attacks attributed to Russian hacker group Killnet

Cybercrime

Artificial intelligence is competing in another endeavor once limited to humans — creating propaganda and disinformation.

Cybercrime

CISA, NSA, and MS-ISAC issued an alert on the malicious use of RMM software to steal money from bank accounts.

Cyberwarfare

The UK’s NCSC has issued a security advisory to warn about spearphishing campaigns conducted by two unrelated Russian and Iranian hacker groups.

Cybercrime

Chinese threat actor DragonSpark has been using the SparkRAT open source backdoor in attacks targeting East Asian organizations.