Hackers stole GigaBytes of Syrian opposition’s data, including battle plans

Pierluigi Paganini February 02, 2015

A report issued by FireEye revealed that hackers have stolen GigaBytes of data from Syrian opposition’s computers, including battlefield plans.

recent report issued by FireEye revealed that hackers tapped into Syrian opposition’s computers and have stolen gigabytes of secret communications and battlefield plans.

In mid-2013, ten armed units belonging to the opposition to the Syrian Government were planning a major operation intended to push a front forward against the government forces. The troops of the Syrian opposition “carefully laid out their objective” saving their plans electronically as pictures. The Syrian opposition planned for a battle involving between 700 and 800 opposition forces.

“they mapped out locations for reserve fighters, staging areas, and support personnel, settled on a field operations area, and planned supply routes to resource their forces. They sternly told commanders of each unit that they could make no ‘individual’ decisions without the approval of the Operations element.” states the report.

The hackers infected the machines of Syrian opposition with malware during flirtatious Skype chats.

The hackers targeted several exponents of the Syrian Opposition located in Syria, including armed opposition members, humanitarian aid workers, and media activists.

“The threat actors used female Skype avatars to chat with their targets and infect their devices with malware. “She” typically asked her intended victim if he was using Skype on an Android or a computer, in a likely attempt to send malware tailored to the device. The threat group also maintained a seemingly pro-opposition website containing links to malicious downloads and Facebook profiles with malicious links as well. They conducted these operations using servers located outside of Syria.” states the report.

The threat actors used different malware for their attacks, both widely available and custom malicious code. As already revealed in the past by FireEye, among the tools used to exfiltrate data from victims’ machines there is the popular DarkComet RAT, a customized keylogger and a collection of tools with different shellcode payloads.
With this tactic, the hackers have stolen hundreds of documents and nearly 31,107 logged Skype chat sessions that included discussions of plans and logistics of the Syrian opposition’s attacks on the forces of the Syrian President Assad.
The stolen data included:

the hackers syphoned nearly 7.7GB of material, including 64 Skype databases, 31,107 conversations, 12,356 contacts and 240,381 messages.

Syrian opposition stolen data

Laura Galante, manager of threat intelligence at the computer security firm, explained that the investigation on the specific case started last year, while the experts at FireEye were researching PDF-based malware discovered a server containing documents and files.

Despite the operation appeared very complex, the hackers made their resounding mistakes …  or they have them such errors intentionally to throw us off. The server that was hosting the file was not password protected and exposed to the Internet.

The documents discovered on the server included annotated satellite images, Skype chats, weapons records and personal information of exponents of the Syrian opposition. The victims were contacted by the hackers through Skype, they concealed their identity behind fake profiles of attractive women sympathetic to their cause.

The hackers used specific attack vector depending on the OS used by victims, in some cases the “attractive women” requested to the victims to swap a photo. In reality, the hackers sent the victims a self-extracting RAR archive that was renamed with a “.pif” file extension.

“The avatar would request a photo of the target, then send a “personal photo” of a woman in return. The avatar’s “photo” was actually an executable file (a self-extracting RAR archive) renamed with the .pif file extension.3 When the victim “opened” the photo, a woman’s picture was displayed while the SFXRAR executed and ultimately installed the DarkComet RAT in the background. From this point on, the victim’s computer was under the threat group’s control” states the report.

According to Galante, the hackers also improved the DarkComet RAT with evasion techniques in order to remain under the radar.

Another element that distinguished this campaign against the Syrian Opposition is the capability of attackers to compromise Android device with a malware. Smart phones are a privileged target for hackers that can collect a huge quantity of data by compromising their mobile devices.

Smart phones, in general, are valuable sources of data about individuals and their social networks, as they may contain address books, SMS messages, email, and other data (including data from mobile apps, such as Skype). Targeting Android may be particularly beneficial in the case of Syrian opposition members, where regular power blackouts in Syria may force people to rely more heavily on mobile devices for communications. Despite the wide array of tools and techniques at their disposal, the threat group does not appear to use software exploits to deliver malware to their targets. Instead, they seem to rely on a variety of social engineering techniques to trick victims into infecting themselves.”

The report confirmed that despite a small number of devices were infected, the hackers compromised multiple accounts of people that shared the mobile devices.

Those infected were “definitely organizers and strategists behind different battles,” Galante said. “These weren’t just low-level guys.”

Who are the culprits?

The report confirms that while researchers have only limited indications about the origins of the threat actors, the investigation revealed multiple references to Lebanon.

Just for your information the server was shut down by the ISP hosting it shortly after FireEye’s findings.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – FireEye, Syrian Opposition)

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