CrySyS Lab revealed a decennial cyber espionage operation by TeamSpy

Pierluigi Paganini March 24, 2013

Last week was monopolized by the discussion on cyber attacks that hit North and South Korea, but I found a news equally stunning, researchers at Hungary-based CrySyS Lab have discovered a decade-long cyber espionage campaign that targeted high-level political and industrial entities in Eastern Europe.

The attackers, dubbed by security researchers TeamSpy, used the popular remote-access program TeamViewer and a specially crafted malware to steal secret documents and encryption keys from victims.


TeamSpy used various methods for cyber espionage including the use of a digitally signed malicious version of TeamViewer in which has been included “DLL hijacking” library to allow spying activities in real-time. Once installed the compromised program provides attackers with a backdoor to control victims.

Which are the targets of cyber espionage campaign?

The hackers hit a large variety of high-level subjects including Russia-based Embassy for a not revealed undisclosed country belonging to both NATO and the European Union, multiple research and educational organizations in France and Belgium, an electronics company located in Iran and an industrial manufacturer located in Russia. Following the list provided by the post in the correct timeline.

  • 11/2012: Hungarian high profile governmental victim.
  • 03/2013: Embassy of NATO/EU state in Russia
  • 04/2010: Electronics company in Middle-East, Govt. background
  • 03/2013: Multiple research/educational organizations in France and Belgium
  • 03/2013: Industrial manufacturer in Russia



All started when Hungary’s National Security Authority revealed that an unnamed “Hungarian high-profile governmental victim” was hit by the TeamSpy.

What is really concerning is that the analysis of the malware dated the beginning of the cyber espionage operations to many years ago, and exactly as many other campaigns the attacks may have involved a great variety of countries all over the world.

The surprises do not end here, security researchers found that techniques adopted by TeamSpy are quite similar to methods implemented by the authors of an online banking fraud ring known as Sheldon, meanwhile, researchers at Kaspersky Lab found similarities to the Red October cyber espionage campaign.

Both the TeamViewer technique and command servers used in the attack reminded to the researchers the modus operandi of Sheldon malware.

The Kaspersky security experts wrote in the report:

“For at least several years, a mysterious threat actor infiltrated and tracked, performed surveillance and stole data from governmental organisations, some private companies and human rights activists throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Eastern European nations. Some parts of this operation extended into Western nations and the Middle East as well, with victims in sectors such as energy and heavy industry manufacturing. The attackers performed their intelligence gathering and surveillance partly using TeamViewer (, a legitimate support software package commonly used for remote administration. In addition, they deployed custom written intelligence gathering components and lateral movement utilities.”

Colleagues at CrySyS Lab confirmed that the campaign could be started a decade ago:

“Most likely the same attackers are behind the attacks that span for the last 10 years, as there are clear connections between samples used in different years and campaigns,” “Interestingly, the attacks began to gain new momentum in the second half of 2012.” “The attackers surely aim for important targets. This conclusion comes from a number of different facts, including victim IPs, known activities on some targets, traceroute for probably high-profile targets, file names used in information stealing activities, strange paramilitary language of some structures, etc.”

The TeamSpy operation also relies on more traditional malware tools that were custom-built for the purpose of espionage or bank fraud.

Kaspersky team confirmed that attackers used various malware and exploit kits infecting victims using “watering hole” attacks, in this way the TeamSpy compromised websites frequented by the intended victims, in many cases the malicious code used to infect victims was spread by Eleonore exploit kit.

This discovery is just the last in order of time, in the last couple of years several cyber espionage campaigns have been discovered, from Duqu to Flame, arriving to recent Mahdi and Red October, the complexity of the operations, the target chosen, the nature of information stolen and the capability of attacker to maintains low profile for a so long time led security expert to believe that behind the campaigns there are groups of state sponsored hackers that conduct intelligence for their governmets.

I wonder how many political decisions have already been influenced by knowledge of the information stolen during these campaigns …

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Cyber espionage, TeamSpy malware)

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