‘NetTraveler’ cyber-spy network compromised over 350 high-profile victims – Kaspersky report
The Kaspersky Global Research and Analysis Lab best known for
exposing Flame and Stuxnet - sophisticated spywares launched by
the US government - has uncovered a global cyber-espionage
network targeting the world's diplomatic, government and military
In a report published on June 4 the malware that especially targeted Asian countries was identified as an “advanced persistent threat” similar to the Red October unveiled in January.
“Based on the collected intelligence, we estimate the [controlling] group side to about 50 individuals, most of which speak Chinese natively and have working knowledge of the English language,” the report said.
However, nowhere in the Kaspersky report is the Chinese government accused of any wrongdoing and only speculation links China to the infection software.
According to the report, NetTraveler was designed to "steal sensitive data as well as log keystrokes, and retrieve file system listings and various Office or PDF documents.”
The amount of stolen data discovered on the malware’s command-and-control servers exceeded 22 gigabytes, with that being a small fraction of the total data stolen since the rest of it was previously downloaded by the attackers and deleted from the servers.
The countries most frequently targeted by NetTraveler – Russia,
India, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan – all border China.
The first evidence of NetTraveler appeared in 2004, but the
report said the most attacks came between 2010 and 2013.
Diplomats were targeted most often, followed by government workers, and high-level private officials then international military contractors. Tibetan/Uyghur activists and oil industry companies also ranked among the favorite targets.
The hackers did not use any advanced vulnerabilities and relied on phishing attacks, which often distribute infected links via email or social media.
“NetTraveler victims get infected through spear-phishing attacks using Office documents which exploit two publicly known vulnerabilities,” the report states with analysts surprised that such unsophisticated attacks can still be successful with high profile targets. “Although these vulnerabilities have been patched by Microsoft, they remain effective and are among the most exploited in targeted attacks.”
The researchers discovered that at least six NetTraveler targets – a Russian military contractor, a government organization in Tajikistan, and embassies in Belgium, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Belarus – were previously hacked by the Red October campaign that was likely launched from Eastern Europe. Kurt Baumgartner, a senior security researcher for the Americas on the Global Research and Analysis Team at Kaspersky, told DarkReading.com the attempts from separate phishing schemes indicates those locations are highly valued.
“Threat actors infiltrate victims simultaneously and may or may not be concerned about victim overlap,” he said. “Most likely, with these two groups in particular, the operators have a specific set of tasks at the victim organizations. If they happen to see another piece of malware on the target network, and it doesn’t interrupt their operation, they just go back to completing their assignments.”