Recently discovered “Lojack” agents containing malicious command and control (C&C) servers point to the Russian cyber-espionage group Sofacy, according to NETSCOUT Arbor.
Previously known as Computrace, Lojack is a legitimate laptop recovery solution used by companies looking to protect assets should they be lost or stolen. It can be used to locate and lock devices remotely, as well as to delete files.
Lojack represents a great double-agent because it is usually considered legitimate software but also allows for remote code execution, NETSCOUT Arbor’s Security Engineering and Research Team (ASERT) points out. Moreover, the tool can survive hard drive replacements and operating system re-imaging.
Many of the anti-virus vendors in VirusTotal don’t flag the Lojack executable as malicious, but rather consider it as “not-a-virus” or “Risk Tool.” Additionally, with binary modification of the “small agent” considered trivial, it’s clear that attackers would consider the tool a viable target.
“With low AV detection, the attacker now has an executable hiding in plain sight, a double-agent. The attacker simply needs to stand up a rogue C&C server that simulates the Lojack communication protocols. Finally, Lojack’s ‘small agent’ allows for memory reads and writes which grant it remote backdoor functionality when coupled with a rogue C&C server,” ASERT notes.
The ASERT security researchers observed five Lojack agents that were pointing to four different suspected domains, three of which have been tied to Sofacy.
Also known as APT28, Fancy Bear, Pawn Storm, Sednit and Strontium, the threat actor is believed to have targeted the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as Ukraine and NATO countries. In fact, the group heavily targeted NATO in early 2017, including with zero-day exploits. The group was also observed shifting focus towards the Middle East and Central Asia last year.
In March 2018, a security researcher revealed that Sofacy attacks overlap with other state-sponsored operations, after the group’s Zerbrocy malware was found on machines compromised by Mosquito, a backdoor associated with the Turla threat actor.
“ASERT assesses with moderate confidence that the rogue Lojack agents are attributed to Fancy Bear based on shared infrastructure with previous operations,” the security researchers say.
Only the presence of a rogue C&C makes the samples malicious, as attackers are merely hijacking the communication used by Lojack, the researchers say. Several of the domains extracted from the rogue agents trace back to Sofacy operations: elaxo[.]org, ikmtrust[.]com, and lxwo[.]org (tied to the group last year), and sysanalyticweb[.]com (spotted only recently).
Although the hijack of the software for malicious purposes is a publicly known tactic, similarities in the binary comparisons and infrastructure analysis increase the possibility that the same actor was behind them.
The domains are associated with the same Lojack agent utilizing the same compile time, contain nonsensical Registrant information (the same information found in multiple fields), a similar nonsensical word used in the Registrant Name field is also used for the Registrant Organization (the field is often skipped, but this actor regularly utilizes both fields).
“Hijacking legitimate software is a common enough tactic for malicious actors. What makes this activity so devious is the binaries hijacked being labeled as legitimate or simple ‘Risk Tool’, rather than malware. As a result, rogue Lojack samples fly under the radar and give attackers a stealthy backdoor into victim systems,” ASERT concludes.
Related: Researchers Dissect Tool Used by Infamous Russian Hacker Group
Related: Sofacy Attacks Overlap With Other State-Sponsored Operations