FireEye detected Molerats attacks on a large scale based on Xtreme RAT

Pierluigi Paganini June 08, 2014

FireEye Labs recently identified several new Molerats attacks based on Xtreme RAT targeting US financial institutions and European government organizations.

FireEye experts between 29 April and 27 May have identified several new Molerats attacks targeting organizations across the globe. European government organizations, at least one U.S. financial institution and other private entities were hit by cyber attacks based on the remote access trojan (RAT), called Xtreme RAT, for their exploits.

This summer FireEye specialists published details related to the investigation on an attack campaign based on Poison Ivy  which targeted numerous organizations in the Middle East and the United States. All these campaigns were conducted using off-the-shelf Remote Access Tool (RAT), and according the experts, they shouldn’t be automatically linked to Chinese bad actors.

The new wave of attacks observed by FireEye have leveraged free Xtreme RAT tool, which gives attackers the complete remote control of the victim’s machine, including the access to webcams or microphones that transform the PC in a powerful environment bug.

Recent attacks adopt old and consolidated tactics, the hackers reuse of command and control (CnC) infrastructure and a similar set of TTPs, the lits of targets include: list, which includes:

  • Palestinian and Israeli surveillance targets
  • Government departments in Israel, Turkey, Slovenia, Macedonia, New Zealand, Latvia, the U.S., and the UK
  • The Office of the Quartet Representative
  • The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
  • A major U.S. financial institution
  • Multiple European government organizations

Attackers behind Molerats campaigns used spear phishing tactics to serve Xtreme RAT malware through malicious emails containing infected link and attachments.

molerats Xtreme RAT

“It shows the barrier to entry is quite low,”“[Operations] like Molerats have been conducting these kind of campaigns for several years now and largely sticking to the same tactics, which probably means they are attaining a certain amount of success without enhancing their capabilities.” “It’s not a typical cyber crime operation, where they are looking to make money through credit card fraud, or something like that. But we are still short of understanding the exact motivation of this particular group,” said Nart Villeneuve, senior threat intelligence researcher at FireEye

FireEye experts have identified a series of indicators that led them to believe that the attacks are conducted by the same group, for example the group use to digitally sign malware code to avoid detection.

“Previous Molerats campaigns have used several garden-variety, freely available backdoors such as CyberGate and Bifrost, but, most recently, we have observed them making use of the PIVY and Xtreme RATs. Previous campaigns made use of at least one of three observed forged Microsoft certificates, allowing security researchers to accurately tie together separate attacks even if the attacks used different backdoors. There also appears to be a habitual use of lures or decoy documents – in either English or Arabic-language – with content focusing on active conflicts in the Middle East. The lures come packaged  with malicious files that drop the Molerats’ flavor of the week, which happen to all be Xtreme RAT binaries in these most recent campaigns.”

Analysts are tracking various attacks and it is still not clear if we are faced with a large scale cyber espionage campaign or if the attacks are related to emerging groups, the unique certainly is that we are facing with targeted attacks.

Molerats campaigns seem to be limited to only using freely available malware; however, their growing list of targets and increasingly evolving techniques in subsequent campaigns are certainly noteworthy.” reports the blog post.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Xtreme RAT, cyber espionage)

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