Cyber security research firm FireEye Research has ‘revealed a cyber threat operation in which malware was used against targets in India and Pakistan since at least 2013’, which also used the Pathankot attack ‘as a theme for lure documents’.
According to a statement issued today by FireEye Research, “The threat group behind the operation likely reached its targets by sending spear phishing emails with malware attachments. The lures used in the email were related to regional military and defense issues, often involving India-Pakistan relations and current events.”
The threat actor’s malware has two primary components. SEEDOOR is often initially delivered to a target system by a downloader. SEEDOOR then creates a backdoor to the victim’s system. SEEDOOR’s built-in functionality includes interacting with the file system, simulating mouse clicks, starting and terminating processes, transferring files, making recordings and screenshots of the desktop, recording sound from a microphone, recording and taking snapshots from webcams, and in some cases collecting Microsoft Outlook emails and attachments.
The threat actor used a variety of lures focused on defense and military topics, as well as issues pertinent to India-Pakistan relations, including regional areas of conflict such as Afghanistan or, separately, Balochistan (a Pakistani province). In multiple instances, the threat actor named the malware attachments the title of news articles from popular Pakistan news sites, including Dawn and the Express Tribune. In multiple cases, the threat actor quickly used the latest news events as themes for lures. The actor also used images of women, including several associated with India or Pakistan.
FireEye Research concluded in its statement, “The significant use of Pakistani infrastructure for command and control, the nature of lure themes targeting Pakistani separatists and Indian military entities, and borrowed news titles from prominent Pakistan news outlets may indicate a potential Pakistani threat sponsor.”
Terror attacks: Following a terrorist attack in Pakistan on Dec. 29, 2015, the threat actor created a malware variant and titled it to appear as if it was a YouTube video about the attack. The threat actor also capitalized quickly on an attack at an Indian Air Force base in early 2016 as a theme for lure documents.
Defense and Military: The threat actor used a variety of military and defense themes in its decoy documents, including topics related to military training and lifestyle. Multiple lures included specific references to Indian defense or military entities. One decoy document appeared to have classified portion markings and contained information regarding the Indian Ministry of Defence and military research and modernization.
Afghanistan: FireEye observed the threat actor use lures related to the conflict in Afghanistan and relevant peace negotiations, and Afghan diplomatic and government officials.
Images of Women: The threat actor often used personal and selfie-style images of women to lure its targets. One image was taken at a party at the Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi, while another was an image of a Pakistani actress and model.
“Based on the themes used in the emails and decoy documents, it is likely the threat actor intended to target Indian government and military personnel, as well as political dissidents in Pakistan, in order to collect intelligence,” said the statement, adding,” FireEye believes the group has a collaborative malware development environment and employs focused targeting. It appears to have operated consistently since 2013.”
It quoted FireEye CTO, Bryce Boland as saying, “The line between real world conflict and cyber conflict continues to blur. Wherever you see geopolitical tensions you are likely to find cyber campaigns beneath the surface.”