Security Experts:

Threat Group Uses New Malware to Target Russian Organizations

A threat group known for targeting Russian organizations has recently started using a new tool in its cyber espionage operations, Palo Alto Networks reported on Tuesday.

At the 2014 ZeroNights security conference, ESET researcher Anton Cherepanov disclosed the details of “Roaming Tiger,” an attack campaign targeting high profile organizations in Russia and former Soviet Union countries, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The threat group used RTF exploits and the PlugX RAT to conduct espionage and steal data from targets. While Cherepanov hasn’t said who is behind the campaign, the command and control (C&C) servers and domains discovered during his researcher were tied to China.

In August 2015, Palo Alto Networks researchers spotted attacks that were very similar to the ones launched as part of the Roaming Tiger operation. The attacks, observed up until December, targeted organizations in Russia and Russian-speaking countries, but instead of PlugX, the threat group started using a new tool dubbed by the security firm "BBSRAT." The new malware uses infection mechanisms that are similar to PlugX, but it has a different architecture and behavior.

In one attack spotted by Palo Alto Networks, the attackers sent out an email containing a malicious Word document designed to exploit an old Microsoft Office vulnerability (CVE-2012-0158) to deliver the BBSRAT malware. This flaw was also exploited in the attacks observed by ESET last year.

The email analyzed by Palo Alto was sent to Vigstar, a Russian research organization that specializes in the development of special-purpose wireless devices and satellite communications systems used by Russian defense and security agencies.

Interestingly, experts pointed out that BBSRAT uses the same C&C domains as in the Roaming Tiger operation detailed by ESET. However, in the recent attacks, it appears the malicious actors deployed different malware variants and separate infrastructure for each of the targeted entities.

BBSRAT, delivered via droppers and downloaders, creates registry entries for persistence. Once it’s installed on a system, the malware collects data on the infected device and sends it back to a remote server via a POST request.

The attackers can then send commands to uninstall or kill the malware, execute a shellcode, start or stop a service, manipulate processes, execute commands, read, write and delete files, obtain file information, create directories, and execute a shell.

“As in many of the previous articles regarding espionage-motivated adversaries and possible nation-state campaigns, what is being observed in this attack campaign is a continued operation and evolution by the adversary even after its tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) have become public knowledge,” Palo Alto Networks researchers explained in a blog post. “Despite the fact that the information about these attackers has been public for over a year, including a listing of many of the command and control servers, they continue to reuse much of their exposed playbook.”

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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.