Olympic Destroyer, alleged artifacts and false flag make attribution impossible

Pierluigi Paganini March 09, 2018


According to Kaspersky Lab, threat actors behind the recent Olympic Destroyer attack planted sophisticated false flags inside their malicious code.

On February 9, shortly before the Pyeongchang opening ceremonies on Friday, televisions at the main press centre, wifi at the Olympic Stadium and the official website were taken down.

Hackers used the so-called Olympic Destroyer, a strain of malware that allowed the attackers to wipe files and make systems inoperable.

olympic destroyer

Experts discovered that the malware leverages the EternalRomance NSA exploit to spread via the SMB protocol.

Initially, experts blamed North Korea for the attack, later intelligence officers attributed the cyber attack to Russia.

According to Talos team, there are many similarities between the Pyeongchang attack, which they are dubbing ‘Olympic Destroyer”’, and earlier attacks such as BadRabbit and NotPetya. All of these attacks are focused on destruction and disruption of equipment not exfiltration of data or other, more subtle attacks. Using legitimate tools such as PsExec and WMI the attackers are specifically targeting the pyeongchang2018.com domain attempting to steal browser and system credentials to move laterally in the network and then wiping the victim computer to make it unusable.

“Disruption is the clear objective in this type of attack and it leaves us confident in thinking that the actors behind this were after embarrassment of the Olympic committee during the opening ceremony.” reads the analysis published by Talos.

Kaspersky experts found samples of the malware at several ski resorts in South Korea, even if they analyzed the malicious code they were not able to attribute the attack to a specific actor.

olympic destroyer 2

The experts identified a unique “fingerprint” associated with the North Korea-linked Lazarus APT, but other evidence collected by the experts revealed important inconsistencies suggesting a false flag operation.

“What we discovered next brought a big shock. Using our own in-house malware similarity system we have discovered a unique pattern that linked Olympic Destroyer to Lazarus. A combination of certain code development environment features stored in executable files, known as Rich header, may be used as a fingerprint identifying the malware authors and their projects in some cases. In case of Olympic Destroyer wiper sample analyzed by Kaspersky Lab this “fingerprint” gave a 100% match with previously known Lazarus malware components and zero overlap with any other clean or malicious file known to date to Kaspersky Lab.” reads the analysis published by Kaspersky.

Kaspersky also found evidence that would suggest the malicious code was developed by the Russia-linked Sofacy APT  (aka Pawn StormFancy Bear, APT28SednitTsar Team, and Strontium.).

“we have seen attackers using NordVPN and MonoVM hosting. Both services are available for bitcoins, which make them the perfect tool for APT actors. This and several other TTPs have in the past been used by the Sofacy APT group, a widely known Russian-language threat actor.” continues Kaspersky.

Is it possible that Russian APT attempted to frame Lazarus?  Maybe.

Another possible scenario sees Lazarus using false flag in the Olympics attack.

“There are some open questions about the attacker’s motivation in this story. We know that the attackers had administrative accounts in the affected networks. By deleting backups and destroying all local data they could have easily devastated the Olympic infrastructure. Instead, they decided to do some “light” destruction: wiping files on Windows shares, resetting event logs, deleting backups, disabling Windows services and rebooting systems into an unbootable state.” concluded Kaspersky.

“When you add in the multiple similarities to TTPs used by other actors and malware, intentional false flags and relatively good opsec, it merely raises more questions as to the purpose of all this.” 

This case demonstrates the difficulty in the attribution of APT attacks.

Further details are available in the Kaspersky’s report.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Olympic Destroyer, malware)

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