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. ®

Broader topics

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