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Pawn Storm Cyberspies Target German Ruling Party

The Russia-linked cyber espionage group Pawn Storm has been observed targeting the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, the political party of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last year, researchers reported that servers in the German Parliament (Bundestag) were infected with malware by Pawn Storm, which is also known as APT28, Sednit, Sofacy, Fancy Bear and Tsar Team.

Trend Micro discovered in April that the threat actor was launching credential phishing attacks against the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and high-profile users of German freemail providers GMX and WEB.DE.

The attackers set up a fake CDU webmail server in Latvia, and three phishing domains for and using a VPS provider registered in the United Arab Emirates. Trend Micro previously reported that this provider, which has servers in the Netherlands and Romania, was used by Pawn Storm in at least 80 high profile attacks aimed at governments around the world.

“Pawn Storm attackers often conduct sophisticated, simultaneous attacks against targets’ corporate and personal email accounts. The attackers build a fake version of the corporate webmail server of the targeted organization and at the same attack key members of the organization on their private free webmail accounts,” said Feike Hacquebord, senior threat researcher at Trend Micro. “Credential phishing is an important espionage tool: we have witnessed Pawn Storm downloading complete online e-mail boxes and securing future access by e.g. setting up a forwarding e-mail addresses secretly.”

“It is a recurring theme in recent Pawn Storm attacks; organizations get hit from different angles simultaneously. We have seen that happening time and time again against various governments, armed forces, defense companies and media,” Hacquebord added.

Pawn Storm has been around for many years and continues to be highly active. Trend Micro reported seeing more than a dozen active command and control (C&C) servers for a piece of malware it calls “X-Agent.” This second-stage malware is used by the threat actor only against high-value targets.

In March, Trend Micro said it had seen Pawn Storm attacks aimed at Turkey, including the government’s Directorate General of Press and Information, the Grand National Assembly, the newspaper Hürriyet, and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Related: Fysbis Backdoor Preferred by Pawn Storm Group to Target Linux

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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.