The South Korea-linked state-sponsored threat actor DarkHotel is believed to have conducted a series of recent attacks targeting major hotel chains in Macau, according to Trellix, an XDR company launched earlier this year following the merger of McAfee Enterprise and FireEye.
Active for more than a decade but first detailed in 2014, the advanced persistent threat (APT) actor has been targeting entities in numerous countries for espionage purposes, including by hacking the Wi-Fi networks of hotels to infect targets’ devices.
DarkHotel is known for the targeting of victims in multiple sectors, including automotive, law enforcement, and pharmaceutics.
Starting late November 2021, Trellix observed spear phishing attacks targeting hotel management employees in roles such as assistant manager, front office manager, and vice president of HR, likely because of their privileged access to hotel systems.
The attackers attached Excel sheets to the emails and attempted to trick the victims into opening the documents and enabling macros. The files were laced with malicious macros designed to perform reconnaissance, as well as data harvesting and exfiltration.
Although some of DarkHotel’s infrastructure was exposed in a December 2021 report, the group has apparently continued to use it to drop new payloads into the victims’ environments, the researchers say.
On December 7, 2021, seventeen hotels in Macao received the same phishing email purporting to originate from the “Macao Government Tourism Office” and carrying a malicious Excel attachment named “instructions.”
In another phishing email, the attackers were asking the hotel’s staff to complete the Excel file with information on individuals staying at the hotel.
The command and control (C&C) domain was impersonating the legitimate government website for the Federated States of Micronesia (fsmgov.org). The Macau Security Forces Bureau (MSSB) issued an alert on the fraudulent domain in December.
The attacks were likely meant to help the threat actor set the stage for future activity, as the hotels were expected to host several conferences that DarkHotel was potentially interested in.
However, the events were canceled or postponed due to the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases in Macau and China, and the attacks stopped on January 18.
Trellix attributed the activity to DarkHotel with moderate confidence, based on the continuous use of an IP address associated with previous APT activity, victimology, and specific development patterns in the C&C panel.
“We have lowered our confidence level to moderate because the specific IP address remained active for quite some time even after being publicly exposed and the same IP-address is the origin of other malicious content not related to this specific threat,” Trellix says.