Feeds

NORKS fingered for APT on South Korean think tanks

Kaspersky says 'Kimsuky' malware driven by Pyonyang

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Security researchers have unearthed yet another highly targeted advanced persistent threat (APT) attack, this time launched by suspected North Korean attackers against a small group of South Korean think tanks.

The Kimsuky campaign, which can be traced back to April this year, was analysed by researchers at Kaspersy Lab in a lengthy blog post on its Securelist portal.

Although pegged as an “unsophisticated” spy program communicating with its operator through a Bulgarian public email server, it attracted their attention because some of its code contained Korean script, Kaspersky Lab’s Dmitry Tarakanov wrote.

Nevertheless, the malware was described as relatively basic, containing coding errors and even traces of infection by the Viking virus.

Tarakanov said his team isn’t sure how the attacks spread but that the samples collected are consistent with the “early stage malware” usually delivered by spear phishing emails.

An initial Trojan dropper loaded more malware onto an infected machine, disabling the system firewall and any Ahn Lab firewall installed - Ahn Lab being a popular Korean security software company.

It also turned off Windows Security Center to prevent any alerts about the disabled firewall, Tarakanov said.

The package contained several modules, each performing a single function: keylogging, directory list collection, remote control access, remote control download/execution and .HWP file theft. The latter is a file format which supports Hangul script and is used in a popular South Korean word processor.

The campaign also used a modified version of the Team Viewer remote access app rather than a bespoke backdoor to nab any interesting looking files from the victim’s machine.

Kaspersky Lab suspects North Koreans behind the attack campaign for several reasons, not least because the emails registered for “drop box mail accounts” are assigned the Korean sounding names "kimsukyang" and “Kim asdfa”.

The targets are also telling, including the Korean Ministry for Unification, the Korean Institute for Defence Analysis, and non-profit the Sejong Institute.

Tarakanov added the following:

Taking into account the profiles of the targeted organisations – South Korean universities that conduct research on international affairs, produce defence policies for government, [a] national shipping company, supporting groups for Korean unification – one might easily suspect that the attackers might be from North Korea.

The targets almost perfectly fall into their sphere of interest. On the other hand, it is not that hard to enter arbitrary registration information and misdirect investigators to an obvious North Korean origin

In terms of originating IP address, ten of them used by Kimsuky operators were located in Jilin and Liaoning province, just over the North Korean border in China

“No other IP-addresses have been uncovered that would point to the attackers’ activity and belong to other IP-ranges,” Tarakanov added. “Interestingly, the ISPs providing internet access in these provinces are also believed to maintain lines into North Korea.”

If it is a North Korean APT campaign, it won’t be the first online attack launched by Pyongyang.

In March around 30,000 PCs in banks, insurance companies and TV stations were knocked out in the “Dark Seoul” attack which the South has blamed on Norks.

Seoul has even claimed that its feisty neighbour to the north has amassed a 3000-strong cyber army of highly trained hackers ready to steal military secrets and disrupt systems. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Rupert Murdoch says Google is worse than the NSA
Mr Burns vs. The Chocolate Factory, round three!
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Know what Ferguson city needs right now? It's not Anonymous doxing random people
U-turn on vow to identify killer cop after fingering wrong bloke
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
Think crypto hides you from spooks on Facebook? THINK AGAIN
Traffic fingerprints reveal all, say boffins
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.