'India attacked Norwegian telco to get at Pakistan, China' - report

A tale of twisted IP tracks


Security researchers have uncovered what appears to be a sophisticated targeted attack launched from India and designed to steal information from a range of government and private enterprise victims in Pakistan, China and elsewhere.

What began as an investigation into an attack on Norwegian operator Telenor soon uncovered evidence to show attackers probably hailing from India had been lifting info from business, government, poltical organisations for as long as three years.

Norwegian anti-malware firm Norman AS claimed in its Operation Hangover (PDF) report that although the attack infrastructure appeared “predominantly to be a platform for surveillance against targets of national security interest (such as Pakistan)”, as well as industrial espionage, there is no direct evidence to link it to state-sponsored players.

Attackers used spear phishing techniques, exploiting known Microsoft software vulnerabilities – no zero days – to drop info-stealing malware dubbed "HangOver" onto victims’ machines.

Finding readable folders on a number of C&C servers, the researchers dug deeper to discover several malicious executable digitally signed with a certificate which had been revoked in 2011.

Domains registered by the attackers were almost all privacy protected, while “almost all websites belonging to this attacker has their robots.txt set to ‘disallow’ to stop them from being crawled”, the report continued.

However, the attack is far from advanced, according to security firm Eset, which has also been investigating.

"String obfuscation using simple rotation (a shift cipher), no cryptography used in network communication, persistence achieved through the startup menu and use of existing, publicly-available tools to gather information on infected systems shows that the attackers did not go to great lengths to cover their tracks," the vendor said in a blog post.

The researchers at Norman explained how the initial Telenor attack allowed them to widen the investigation, as follows:

We have direct knowledge of only one attack – the one against Telenor. During this investigation we have obtained malware samples and decoy documents that have provided indications as to whom else would be in the target groups. We have observed the usage of peculiar domain names that are remarkably similar to existing legitimate domains. We have also obtained sinkhole data for a number of domains in question and found open folders with stolen user data in them; enough to identify targets down to IP and machine name/domain level.

These IP addresses hail from a large range of countries globally including China, Russia, France and the US but the vast majority correspond to Pakistan.

Aside from Telenor the report listed other attack targets as energy companies the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) and Bumi; Porsche Informatik; and Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

“The continued targeting of Pakistani interests and origins suggested that the attacker was of Indian origin,” the report concludes.

Interestingly, an analysis of the project paths for malware creation revealed a highly organised operation in which “multiple developers are tasked with specific malware deliverances”:

There are many diverging project paths which points towards different persons working on separate sub-projects, but apparently not using a centralised source control system. The projects seem to be delegated into tasks, of which some seem to follow a monthly cycle.

The report also points out that the word “Appin” crops up in various contexts and cases, including malware file names, speculating some actor may be deliberately trying to implicate Indian security company Appin Security Group in the attacks.

The company has now issued a warning notice on its home page urging the public “not to be misled by any communication received through fictitious domains which are purportedly being made by, or on behalf of, our company”.

It also sent a strongly worded statement to The Hacker News claiming the reference to Appin in the report was a “marketing gimmick on the part of Norman AS” and that it has already initiated legal proceedings against the Norwegian firm. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022