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Phishers now steal plans

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Attackers behind a recent surge in phishing and payment-interception attacks on industrial companies are also stealing victims’ project and operational plans, as well as diagrams of electrical and information networks, according to a report by Kaspersky Lab.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks, often linked to Nigeria, seek to hijack genuine business accounts which the attackers can monitor for financial transactions to intercept or redirect. In October 2016, Kaspersky Lab researchers noticed a significant spike in the number of malware infection attempts targeting industrial customers. They identified over 500 attacked companies in 50 countries, mainly industrial enterprises and large transportation and logistics corporations. The attacks are ongoing.

The attack sequence

The attack sequence begins with a carefully crafted phishing email, appearing to come from suppliers, customers, commercial organisations and delivery services. The attackers use malware belonging to at least eight different Trojan-spy and backdoor families, all available cheaply on the black market, and designed primarily to steal confidential data and install remote administration tools on infected systems.

On infected corporate computers, the attackers take screenshots of correspondence or redirect messages to their own mail box so they can look out for interesting or lucrative transactions. The payment is then intercepted through a classic man-in-the-middle attack, by replacing the account details in a legitimate seller’s invoice with the attackers’ own. It can be difficult for a victim to spot the substitution until it is too late and the money has gone.

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The unknown threat

While analysing the command-and-control servers used in the most recent, 2017, attacks, the researchers noted that screenshots of operations and project plans, as well as technical drawings and network diagrams were among the data stolen. Further, these images had not been taken from the computers of project managers or procurement managers, the attackers’ usual targets, but from those belonging to operators, engineers, designers and architects.

“There is no need for the attackers to collect this kind of data in order to perpetrate their phishing scams. So what do they do with this information? Is the collection accidental, or intentional – perhaps commissioned by a third party?  So far, we have not seen any of the information stolen by Nigerian cybercriminals on the black market. However, it is clear that, for the companies being attacked, in addition to the direct financial loss, a Nigerian phishing attack poses other, possibly more serious, threats,” said Maria Garnaeva, Senior Security Researchers, Critical Infrastructure Threat Analysis, Kaspersky Lab.

The next step could be for attackers to gain access to the computers that form part of an industrial control system, where any interception or adjustment of settings could have a devastating impact.

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Attacker profile

When the researchers extracted the command and control (C&C) addresses from the malicious files, it turned out that in some cases the same servers were used for malware from different families. This suggests there is either just one cybercriminal group behind all the attacks, making use of different malware, or a number of groups cooperating and sharing resources.

The researchers also found that most domains were registered to residents of Nigeria.

How to mitigate the threat

Kaspersky Lab advises companies to implement the following basic security best practice:

  • Educate employees in essential email security: not clicking on suspicious links and attachments and carefully checking the origin of an email – and keep them informed of the latest tools and tricks used by cybercriminals.
  • Always double-check requests to change bank account details, payment methods etc. during transactions.
  • Install a security solution on all workstations and servers where possible – and implement all updates without delay.
  • In the event of a system being compromised, change the passwords for all accounts used on that system.
  • If your organisation has an industrial control system, install specialist security that will monitor and analyse all network activity and more.

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Cons exploit Telegram ICO

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Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.

In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.

Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.

The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.

Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.

“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:

  • Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
  • Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
  • Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.

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Crouching Yeti strikes

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Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.

According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.

Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.

Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.

In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.

Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.

“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.

“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.

Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.

More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.

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