A look into the cyber arsenal used by Lazarus APT hackers in recent attacks against financial institutions

Pierluigi Paganini January 25, 2018

Security experts at Trend Micro have analyzed malware and a tool used by the Lazarus APT group in the recent attacks against financial institutions.

Security experts at Trend Micro have analyzed the attacks conducted by the notorious Lazarus APT group against financial institutions.

The activity of the Lazarus Group surged in 2014 and 2015, its members used mostly custom-tailored malware in their attacks and experts that investigated on the crew consider it highly sophisticated.

This threat actor has been active since at least 2009, possibly as early as 2007, and it was involved in both cyber espionage campaigns and sabotage activities aimed to destroy data and disrupt systems.  Security researchers discovered that North Korean Lazarus APT group was behind attacks on banks, including the Bangladesh cyber heist.

In the last campaigns against financial firms, the cyber spies launched watering hole attacks and leveraged a variant of the Lazarus-linked RATANKBA Trojan.

“The malware known as RATANKBA is just one of the weapons in Lazarus’ arsenal. This malicious software, which could have been active since late 2016, was used in a recent campaign targeting financial institutions using watering hole attacks. The variant used during these attacks (TROJ_RATANKBA.A) delivered multiple payloads that include hacking tools and software targeting banking systems.” reads the analysis published by Trend Micro.

“We analyzed a new RATANKBA variant (BKDR_RATANKBA.ZAELA), discovered in June 2017, that uses a PowerShell script instead of its more traditional PE executable form—a version that other researchers also recently identified.

The researchers identified and hacked in some servers used by the cyber spies for temporarily storing stolen data, the analysis of the backend revealed that around 55% of the victims were located in India and neighboring countries.

The majority of the victims were not using enterprise versions of Microsoft software, less than 5% of the victims were Microsoft Windows Enterprise users.

The IP addresses of the victims don’t belong to a large bank or a financial institution, according to Trend Micro victims are likely employees of three web software development companies in India and one in South Korea.

The RATANKBA Trojan is delivered via weaponized Office documents (containing topics related to cryptocurrencies and software development), CHM files, and script downloaders.

Experts noticed that attackers don’t implement a real-time communication with the malware. Once compromised a target machine, the attackers will use a Remote Controller tool to send jobs to the system, the queue of jobs is then processed by RATANKBA.

“During our analysis, we collected a copy of the RATANKBA malware’s Lazarus Remote Controller tool. The remote controller provides a user interface that allows attackers to send jobs to any compromised endpoint. The controller gives the attackers the ability to manipulate the victims’ host by queueing tasks on the main server. RATANKBA retrieves and executes the tasks, and retrieves the collected information.” continues the analysis.

The controller tools used by the Lazarus APT implements a graphical UI interface that allows hackers to push code to the server and download victim profiles from it.

Lazarus APT group 2

Trend Micro also provided a profile of the members of the Lazarus APT group, the hackers appear to be native Korean speakers and at least one of them is believed to also understand Chinese.

“Given Lazarus’ use of a wide array of tools and techniques in their operations, it’s reasonable to assume that the group will continue to use ever-evolving tactics in their malicious activities.” concluded Trend Micro.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Lazarus APT Group, hacking)

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