North Korea's Lazarus cyber-gang caught 'spying' on chemical sector companies

Crypto-coin theft isn't enough to keep these miscreants busy


North Korea's Lazarus cybercrime gang is now breaking into chemical sector companies' networks to spy on them, according to Symantec's threat intel team.

While the Korean crew's recent, and highly profitable, thefts of cryptocurrency have been in the headlines, the group still keeps its spying hand in. Fresh evidence has been found linking a recent espionage campaign against South Korean targets to file hashes, file names, and tools previously used by Lazarus, according to Symantec.

The security shop says the spy operation is likely a continuation of the state-sponsored snoops' Operation Dream Job, which started back in August 2020. This scheme involved using phony job offers to trick job seekers into clicking on links or opening malicious attachments, which then allowed the criminals to install spyware on the victims' computers.

ClearSky and AT&T security researchers documented Dream Job campaigns targeting defense, government, and engineering organizations in 2020 and 2021. And earlier this year, Qualys security researchers documented a similar scam targeting Lockheed Martin job applicants.

Symantec's threat hunting team says Lazarus' more-recent focus on chemical companies began in January, when the security firm detected network activity on "a number of organizations based in South Korea."

In this case, the attacks usually begin with the victim receiving a malicious HTML file, which is somehow copied to a DLL file called scskapplink.dll that is used to compromise an application on the system.

"The DLL file gets injected into INISAFE Web EX Client, which is legitimate system management software. The scskapplink.dll file is typically a signed Trojanized tool with malicious exports added," the Symantec threat hunters said, adding that the crime gang has used the following developer signatures: DOCTER USA, INC and "A" MEDICAL OFFICE, PLLC.

The injected malicious code downloads and executes a backdoor payload from a command-and-control server that Symantec said uses the URL parameter key/values "prd_fld=racket." At this point, the malware repeatedly connects to the C2 server to execute shellcode and download additional malware to run.

Additionally, the crooks use Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to move laterally across the network and inject into the MagicLine application by DreamSecurity on other computers.

In one particular case that the threat hunters detail in the blog, the attackers stole credentials from the SAM and SYSTEM registry hive, and then spent several hours running unknown shellcode using a loader called final.cpl, which Symantec said was likely to collect the dumped system hives.

In other instances, the security team said the attackers installed a BAT file to gain persistence in the network, and deployed post-compromise tools, including SiteShoter, which takes screenshots of web pages viewed on the infected machine.

"They were also seen using an IP logging tool (IP Logger), a protocol used to turn computers on remotely (WakeOnLAN), a file and directory copier (FastCopy), and the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) executed under the MagicLine process," Symantec noted.

US threatens to freeze Lazarus assets

The security firm's research comes as the US Treasury Department linked the Pyongyang-backed criminals to last month's security breach of video game Axie Infinity's Ronin Network in which crooks made off with about $625 million in cryptocurrency.

Meanwhile Washington is also pursuing a UN Security Council resolution that would freeze Lazarus' assets and be a direct blow to the North Korean government's coffers. The move, according to Reuters, is part of a larger draft resolution that would impose further sanctions on North Korea for its renewed ballistic missile launches.

In addition to battling Kim Jong-un's cyber goons, the Feds are warning critical infrastructure operators to be on high alert for miscreants targeting industrial control system (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices.

A joint alert from CISA, the Department of Energy, NSA, and the FBI said that some of the at-risk devices include programmable logic controllers from Schneider Electric and Omron Electronics as well as Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture servers.

Threat groups have created custom tools to scan for, compromise, and eventually control affected devices after gaining initial access to an organization's operational technology networks. ®

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