Security Experts:

'ScanBox' Framework Used in Attacks Against U.S. Think Tank, Uyghurs

A reconnaissance framework documented by researchers earlier this year has been used by multiple threat groups in watering hole attacks targeting organizations in various sectors.

The framework, called ScanBox, was first analyzed by researchers at AlienVault, who revealed in August that the tool had been planted on the website of a major industrial company. Researchers at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have been monitoring ScanBox attacks and determined that it is likely used by more than one group.

ScanBox is designed for reconnaissance missions. The framework uses plugins to collect various pieces of information on the visitors of targeted websites, including details on their computers and the software they are running. The tool also includes keylogging functionality that records all the keystrokes performed by users while visiting a site.

PwC has identified four watering hole attacks leveraging ScanBox. In August, the company spotted a campaign aimed at a Japanese organization in the industrial sector and, in September, the tool was used to target the Uyghur population in China. In October, attacks were observed against a think tank in the United States and a Korean organization in the hospitality sector.

While it's possible that all these operations are the work of a single group that targets a wide range of organizations, researchers have found evidence to suggest that different threat actors are behind each of these attacks.

During their analysis of the attacks, PwC researchers focused on the implementation of the framework and the infrastructure used by the attackers in each case.

Experts have determined that the framework implementations used in each of the four attacks share the same codebase, but there are some "subtle" differences. The differences are in software enumeration implementation, and the selective loading of plugins depending on the user's browser, which not only prevents errors that could expose the operation, but also makes the job of researchers slightly more difficult.

While the implementation differences could be a result of upgrades to the framework or the adaptation of code for different targets, researchers have found that there is only little overlap between the campaigns in terms of infrastructure. PwC says they haven't been able to identify any direct overlaps between the attacks, such as shared domains or IP addrsses.

"In our view, the hypothesis with the highest probability is that groups of attackers share resources leading to overlaps – this appears to be an ever more common feature – with malware families, builders, and even sometimes hosting infrastructure being shared between disparate actors with a common goal," PwC's Chris Doman and Tom Lancaster wrote in a blog post. "Sharing frameworks like ScanBox or other exploit kits allows less sophisticated actors (who were themselves unable to develop a tool like ScanBox) to conduct better attacks."


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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.