Recently, an international NGO that provides threat sharing and analysis support to frequently targeted communities reached out to ThreatConnect wanting to learn more about the origins of a targeted phishing attack they were researching. Researching both the attacker’s infrastructure and tooling, we believe the nexus of the attack to be DPRK’s Kimsuky group (aka Velvet Chollima). Kimsuky is notorious for their phishing efforts; researchers even dubbed this group the “King of Spear Phishing” in a 2019 VirusBulletin paper. They are also believed to be behind the attacks on Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power in 2014. The potential targets identified in this research range from journalism to civil society organizations. We suspect the activity discussed here to be part of Kimsuky’s efforts to harvest credentials for espionage purposes though we can’t rule out for certain that they aren’t other objectives.
The international NGO requested that we not share the contents of the phish or point out the organization they are working with. To protect their identity we will share our findings starting from the Kimsuky nexus, which emanates from research published by Korean security firm ESTSecurity on a malicious document. From there, we’ll build out an understanding of additional, associated infrastructure and potential targets gleaned from those findings.
ESTSecurity inspected a malicious lure document discussing North Korean defectors. This lure document contained a UPX packed binary that reached out to wave[.]posadadesantiago[.]com. Based upon their report we believe SHA256: 252d1b7a379f97fddd691880c1cf93eaeb2a5e5572e92a25240b75953c88736c, either is or is strikingly similar to the document discussed in their blog post based on these similarities:
- Lure document text matches the screenshot
- The binary used the same string obfuscation technique
- C2 URL hxxp://wave[.]posadadesantiago[.]com/home/dwn.php?van=101
- Malicious document VBA code similarities with what’s shown in the screenshots
- Digital signature signer name EGIS CO., Ltd. in the dropped file
We’ll use this document as the launching point to discover additional infrastructure most likely associated with this attack.
Find All the Things
Before we get into our findings, we want to call out the infrastructure hunting techniques utilized below. Starting with a domain, we’ll look at the IP that hosts the domain and how many other domains are hosted there. In cases where very few and/or similar domains are hosted at the IP, we can assess with a reasonable level of confidence that the IP is dedicated to a single user.
The second primary technique used is pivoting off of similar subdomain values which use reasonably unique strings. Think of this as searching on the beginning or middle of a multilevel domain name. Using login.un-phish.bad[.]com as a contrived example we’d search on login.un-phish.* to see what other domains this subdomain was used under. The trick here is not searching on a common string. Subdomain inspection can also hint at the activity behind the domain or even who might be targeted. For example, seeing a URL starting with login suggests that the URL is being used to harvest credentials. Finally, while infrastructure hunting may seem more like an art than a science; remember to always look for additional data points like registrar or hosting information to corroborate the results.
VirusTotal (VT) provides additional information on the malicious document. Here we are looking for any In The Wild (ITW) file origin URLs listed. These URLs sometimes show IPs or domains that served up the file. VT returns this ITW file origin URL:
hxxp://onedrive.sslport[.]work/share/file/interview%20with%20a%20north%20korean%20defector.doc (VT Link)
We now have a domain, let’s start the pivots!
Taking this domain, sslport[.]work, pivot off the IP hosting the domain to uncover a number of domains hosted on the same IP.IP: 18.104.22.168
The domain com-download[.]work stands out as it was referenced in an article linked from the ESTSecurity article above. The article describes a phishing attempt against the Korean Studies Institute at George Washington University.
Next, let’s look into subdomains used.
Focusing on sslport[.]work again, we see some interesting subdomains under the pDNS tab in DomainTools Iris:
These two entries:
lead to a potential target — Radio Free Asia, a broadcast organization that consistently reports on North Korea. The usage of RFA in the subdomain is suspicious but we can’t say for certain they were a target as their likeness may have been used in attacks against other organizations.
Pulling on another thread from the same IP, we find another potential target. These three entries appear when looking at the pDNS data in DomainTools for the IP 108.62.141[.]33.
Immediately ohchr jumps out as it may spoof the “Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights”.
But wait! The trail does not stop here.
Subdomain String Pivot
Pivoting off of the subdomain string intranet.ohchr.* using DomainTools Iris we identify additional, most likely related, domains.
In particular these three domains appear to be related:
Upon inspecting org-view[.]work further we find:
Additional potential targets can be gleaned from this list. At a high level these targets are civil society organizations.
First, the subdomain amaniafrica-et appears to be masquerading as amaniafrica-et.org.
In addition to being a civil society organization, interest in this organization could be due to commercial ties North Korea has had with different African nations over the years, according to the Washington Post.
The next one on the list that jumps out is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). According to their website, AEI focuses on defending human dignity.
Connecting the Dots
Connecting the indicators with the potential targets graphically, we see a fair number of resources targeting OHCHR.
Taking just the domains and subdomains in this article and mapping it to a timeline, we can see the continuous efforts Kimsuky is going through to gather credentials. The activity covered here, according to DomainTool’s Iris, goes back as far as December of 2019 and is as recent as August of this year.
Potential Targets Uncovered
Based on the identified subdomains, the following organizations are possible targets of this campaign, or their likeness was spoofed in targeting other organizations:
- Amani Africa
- Radio Free Asia
- American Enterprise Institute
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
In addition to these, Korean Studies Institute at George Washington University didn’t have a subdomain that was indicative of them being targeted; however, they were still found via infrastructure pivoting along with a public report of them being targeted. For the rest, we acknowledge that the subdomains used could be indicative of the target; they could also be used to go after third parties that might trust those organizations.
ThreatConnect believes that Kimsuky will continue to target journalism and civil society organizations, particularly those focusing on North Korean issues. Organizations reporting on North Korea human rights violations or working with North Korean defectors need to remain especially vigilant of phishing attacks that take advantage of the information sharing culture they are part of. Be wary of any link and/or attachment, especially those asking for credentials, and enable two factor authentication to mitigate actors’ access with compromised credentials.