Nigeria 419 scam targeting business world with RATs

Pierluigi Paganini July 27, 2014

Experts at Palo Alto Networks uncovered a new Nigeria 419 scam scheme which is targeting businesses in a malicous campaign dubbed Silver Spaniel.

The Nigeria 419 schema adopted by criminal gangs world wide has been improved by scammers which are also including the use of remote access trojans (RATs).

A report published by the Palo Alto Networks firm titled “419 Evolution” revealed that scammmers are targeting businesses in Taiwan and South Korea with a malware purchased on hacker forums.

The Nigeria 419 scam is a popular form of upfront payment or money transfer scam, the name “Nigerian scam” was assigned because the first wave of illegal activities came from Nigeria, meanwhile the ‘4-1-9’ part of the name comes from the section of Nigeria’s Criminal Code which discovered the fraud scheme.

The scammers contact the victim by email or letter and offer him a share in a large sum of money that they want to transfer out of their country. Scammers ask the victim to pay money or give them his bank account details to help them transfer the money.

Usually they try to deceive victims requesting the payment to solve a situation that has caused the block of the money transfer, for example, internal disorders in their country, government restrictions or taxes in the scammer’s country.

Palo Alto experts have uncovered a new sophisticated campaign dubbed “Silver Spaniel” as explained in the report:

“Our team is tracking this activity under the code name Silver Spaniel. These attacks have deployed commodity tools that can be purchased for small fees on underground forums and deployed by any individual with a laptop and an e-mail address. Two specific tools were used in multiple attacks that gave the actors the ability to take control of a system without being detected by antivirus programs. Despite the effectiveness of these tools, some of these actors showed remarkably poor operational security that revealed their infrastructure and real world identities. ” states the study on the evolution  of Nigeria 419.

The investigation started in May, after that some customers of Palo Alto Networks detected a malicious phishing campaign, which used e-mail attachment named “Quatation For Iran May Order.exe”, “Samples Photos Oct Order.exe” and “New Samples Required.exe”

“This sample is a variant of the NetWire RAT crypted with a tool named DataScrambler to avoid AV detection”

It is important to note that bad actors behind the Silver Spaniel campaign do not appear to build any tools on their own, they have always used malware sold by other criminal gangs on underground forums.

The experts believe that actors responsible for this new Nigeria 419 scam haven’t high cyber capabilities, they never exploited any software vulnerabilities for their campaign, but instead they relied entirely on social engineering to trick victims into installing malware.

“The tactics, techniques and procedures deployed by Silver Spaniel actors indicate their sophistication level is low compared to that of nation-state sponsored actors and advanced cyber criminals. While many actors use commodity RATs like NetWire, running an operation from a PC and not being careful to avoid exposing one’s actual IP address shows a lack of concern for or knowledge of operational security. “

It was just the tip of the iceberg, because experts identified multiple attacks that exhibited similar characteristics, the operation is currently tracked by Palo Alto as part of the Silver Spaniel campaign.

The new  Nigeria 419 schema uses RATs like NetWire, which is a multi platform malware which allows attackers to control victims, or DataScrambler which is used to avoid detection by defensive solutions before distributing the file as an e-mail attachments.

Nigeria 419 evolution DataScrambler


As explained by Rick Howard, CSO of Palo Alto Networks, the scammers had shifted their aims from at-home users, to higher income accounts of businesses using data-stealing RATs.

“419 scammers are typically pretty low-end and tend to go after the typical consumer, not the businesses,” “noticing more and more of these attacks [targeting] the business world,” Howard said.

The report on the new Nigeria 419 scam is full of details on the investigation, it includes a list of malicious domains that have been linked with the Silver Spaniel campaign and provides information on the malware used by fraudsters in malicious email attachments.

Pierluigi Paganini

Security Affairs –  (Nigeria 419 scam, cybercrime)

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