SideWinder Strikes Victims in Pakistan, Turkey in Multiphase Polymorphic Assault

India’s prolific SideWinder superior persistent menace group (APT) is concentrating on Pakistani authorities officers and people in Turkey, utilizing polymorphism methods that permit it to bypass conventional signature-based antivirus (AV) detection to ship a next-stage payload.

The assaults use paperwork with content material geared towards their pursuits, which when opened exploit a distant template injection flaw to ship malicious payloads, the researchers on the BlackBerry Menace Analysis and Intelligence crew revealed in a weblog submit on Might 8.

The primary part of the marketing campaign — found in November makes use of a server-side polymorphic assault in opposition to targets in Pakistan, whereas a later part found earlier this 12 months makes use of phishing techniques to ship malicious lure paperwork to victims, the researchers stated.  

Nonetheless, as an alternative of utilizing malicious macros inside paperwork to drop malware — which is usually the case when paperwork are used as lures — the APT exploits the CVE-2017-0199 vulnerability to ship the payloads as an alternative, the researchers stated.

SideWinder, energetic since 2012, was detected by Kaspersky within the first quarter of 2018 and thought to primarily goal Pakistani navy infrastructure. Nonetheless, as current analysis and the most recent assault show, the goal vary of the group — broadly believed to be related to Indian espionage pursuits — seems to be far broader than that.

How Polymorphism Methods Defenders

Server-side polymorphism is a method used because the Nineteen Nineties by attackers to evade detection by AV instruments. It does so by utilizing malicious code that alters its look by means of encryption and obfuscation, ensuring that no two samples look the identical and thus cannot simply be analyzed, the researchers defined.

The assault can idiot defenders as a result of it serves the sufferer with a brand new pattern every time a hyperlink is clicked, Dmitry Bestuzhev, senior director of cyber-threat intelligence at BlackBerry, tells Darkish Studying. On this case, every new obtain has a brand new hash, which “successfully breaks hash-based detections utilized by safety operations facilities (SOCs) and a few endpoint scanners,” he says.

“Since there’s a brand new hash every time, there isn’t a info on a given pattern on public multi scanners like VirusTotal until every new pattern is uploaded time and again for additional evaluation,” Bestuzhev says. “So it makes life tougher for the victims due to the lack of awareness on public sandboxes and other-like safety providers.”

The Newest Marketing campaign

BlackBerry researchers examined varied paperwork within the marketing campaign, which have been discovered on an attacker-controlled server used to ship the paperwork to customers. The primary that researchers encountered was titled “GUIDELINES FOR BEACON JOURNAL – 2023 PAKISTAN NAVY WAR COLLEGE (PNWC),” whereas one other found in early December pretended to be a letter of supply and acceptance “for the acquisition of protection articles, protection providers, or each.”

In each instances, targets have been instructed to achieve out to distant addresses managed by SideWinder that will obtain the next-stage payload, “file.rtf,” a wealthy textual content doc file that demonstrates the polymorphic nature of the assault and may solely be downloaded by customers within the Pakistani IP vary, the researchers stated.

“The title of the file ‘file.rtf’ and the file sort are the identical; nonetheless, the contents, file measurement and the file hash are completely different,” they famous. “That is an instance of server-based polymorphism, the place every time the server responds with a special model of file, so bypassing the sufferer’s antivirus scanner (presuming the antivirus makes use of signature-based detection).”

If the consumer isn’t within the Pakistani IP vary, the server returns an 8 byte RTF file that accommodates a single string; nonetheless, if the consumer is throughout the Pakistani IP vary, the server then returns the RTF payload, which varies between 406KB to 414KB in measurement, the researchers stated.

To Turkey & Past: An Increasing Cyber Menace

In early March, the researchers found a brand new malicious doc linked to the sooner assault that was propagated by way of phishing emails, indicating that the scope of the assault had unfold to victims in Turkey — a brand new goal area for SideWinder, researchers stated. In mid-March, the researchers found a newly configured server delivering the payload that was arrange so {that a} sufferer in Turkey may obtain a second-stage payload, they stated.

Whereas SideWinder’s main targets have at all times been the Southeast Asia areas corresponding to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with a selected deal with Pakistani authorities establishments. Nonetheless, concentrating on victims in Turkey is sensible from a geopolitical perspective, the researchers noticed, due to the Turkish authorities’s assist of Pakistan, which has sparked criticism from India, they stated.

Whereas polymorphic assaults total may be tough to defend in opposition to, detection and prevention methods based mostly on conduct and hashes may be successfully used in opposition to them, Bestuzhev says.

“When prevention applied sciences are based mostly on code similarities and heuristics or machine studying fashions, even when there’s a new hash, it mustn’t break the detection of the malicious pattern,” he notes.

The important thing for organizations to mitigate these assaults, Bestuzhev provides, “is to not deal with unstable indicators of compromise however on significant techniques, methods, and procedures (TTPs) and behaviors within the system or code blocks coated by machine studying applied sciences.”

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles