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Nation-State APT Targets Afghans With New Toolset

A previously unseen threat actor, likely a nation-state, is targeting various entities in South Asia, with a focus on Afghanistan, according to a warning from anti-malware vendor Symantec.

A previously unseen threat actor, likely a nation-state, is targeting various entities in South Asia, with a focus on Afghanistan, according to a warning from anti-malware vendor Symantec.

Symantec referered to the actor as Harvester and warned that the state-sponsored adversary has been active since June 2021, with the latest attacks observed in October. The threat actor is targeting organizations in the government, information technology, and telecommunications sectors.

Focused on information theft, Harvester is using both custom and publicly available tools, some of which haven’t been observed in previous attacks.

Harvester was seen deploying a custom backdoor called Graphon, along with various other tools, to gain remote access to the targeted systems, spy on victims, and exfiltrate data. The initial infection vector remains unknown.

The attackers also employed custom tools to download additional payloads and take screenshots on the compromised systems, as well as a Cobalt Strike Beacon, and the Metasploit off-the-shelf framework.

In addition, Symantec found the group abusing Microsoft infrastructure for command and control purposes and attempts to hide its malicious traffic to blend into the legitimate network traffic.

The use of custom tools and an extensive effort to hide malicious activity suggests that Harvester is a state-sponsored actor, the security researchers say, without associating the activity to any known adversary.

The activity also stands out because of the targeting of organizations in Afghanistan, given the attention that the country has received recently. 

Related: Ongoing Phishing Campaign Targets APAC, EMEA Governments

Related: Alaska Health Department Hack Linked to State-Sponsored Hackers

Related: Threat Actor Targets Indian Government With Commercial RATs

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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