North Korean Hackers Specialise In Financial Theft

North Korean hackers have for years been using different tactics to run cyber-enabled financial thefts, most recently using fake companies to compromise cryptocurrency-related businesses. Now the hacking outfit has been tweaking some of its malware, delivery mechanisms, and payloads in an attempt to decrease their chances of getting caught.

According to a United Nations Report hackers have been used to steal the huge sums of money N. Korea needs to fund its nuclear weapons program,  using a network of the fake companies and websites to hide behind. These fake idnetities rarely pass close inspection test, the links on these weaponised websites don’t always work. Now, hackers known as Lazarus Group or APT38 have been getting increasingly careful in other areas, according to new Kaspersky Lab research.  

Lazarus has been a major threat actor in the APT arena for several years. Alongside goals like cyberespionage and cyber sabotage, the attacker has been targeting banks and other financial companies around the globe. 

Over the last few months, Lazarus has successfully compromised several banks and infiltrated a number of global cryptocurrency exchanges and fintech companies.

In the last two years, multiple researchers have revealed some of Lazarus Group’s latest antics relying on front companies. The hackers have been using a fake company, “JMT Trading,” to install backdoors to funnel funds to Pyongyang, multiple researchers revealed in 2019, for example. The year before, hackers were using another fake company, “Celas Trade Pro,” to target cryptocurrency exchanges. They have also used a fake website and company called “UnionCryptoTrader.”

In some cases they have developed their own macOS malware, with an authentication mechanism built in to deliver a secondary payload directly from memory. In the Windows version of the malware, Lazarus Group has updated its multi-stage infection process and changed the final payload it delivers.

Kaspersky has also identified several victims in the UK, Poland, Russia, and China and several of the victims are linked to cryptocurrency business entities.

Lazarus Group 
North Korean hacking campaigns have traditionally been focused on avoiding detection and tricking victims to unwittingly help fill out the DPRK’s coffers, which have been hampered in recent years as a result of economic sanctions. 
But some of the campaigns details reveal that beyond just changing its tactics to evade detection, Lazarus Group has also been more selective in choosing victims.

In a campaign targeting Windows users, for instance, attackers have included a final payload that is designed to run only on certain systems that appear to be predesignated, according to Kaspersky.
“Upon launch, the malware retrieves the victim’s basic system information … If the response code from the C2 server is 200, the malware decrypts the payload and loads it in memory,” Kaspersky researchers write. “The final payload … was designed to run only on certain systems.”

The apparent increased specificity in targeting could indicate Lazarus Group is using previously gleaned intelligence, possibly from other hacking campaigns, to maximise its current fundraising efforts.

Research suggests that Lazarus Group delivered this highly targeted malware using Telegram, because it was executed from the Telegram messenger download folder. The goal of the campaign, aside from the obvious financial motivations, are not yet entirely clear.

SecureList:        Bloomberg:        Cyberscoop:

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