ESET Research: Lazarus attacks aerospace and defence contractors worldwide while misusing LinkedIn and WhatsApp

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  • Over the course of the annual ESET World conference, ESET researchers have been presenting a new investigation into the infamous Lazarus APT Group and their attack on defence contractors around the world between late 2021 and March 2022.
  • Targets were according to ESET Telemetry in Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland, and Ukraine), the Middle East (Turkey, Qatar) and Latin America (Brazil). 
  • For fake recruiting campaigns, they used services such as LinkedIn and WhatsApp.
  • According to the U.S. government, Lazarus is linked to the North Korean regime.

During the annual ESET World conference, ESET researchers presented a new investigation into the infamous Lazarus APT group. Director of ESET Threat Research Jean-Ian Boutin went over various new campaigns perpetrated by the Lazarus group against defence contractors around the world between late 2021 and March 2022.

In the relevant 2021-2022 attacks and according to ESET telemetry, Lazarus has been targeting companies in Europe (France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Ukraine) and Latin America (Brazil). 

Despite the primary aim of this Lazarus operation being cyber-espionage, the group has also worked to exfiltrate money (unsuccessfully). “The Lazarus threat group showed ingenuity by deploying an interesting toolset, including a user-mode component able to exploit a vulnerable Dell driver to write to kernel memory. This advanced trick was used to bypass security solutions monitoring.,” says Jean-Ian Boutin.

As early as 2020, ESET researchers had already documented a campaign pursued by a sub-group of Lazarus against European aerospace and defence contractors ESET called operation In(ter)ception. This campaign was noteworthy as it used social media, especially LinkedIn, to build trust between the attacker and an unsuspecting employee before sending them malicious components masquerading as job descriptions or applications. Companies in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Qatar, Turkey and Ukraine had already been targeted.

ESET researchers believed that the action was primarily geared towards attacking European companies. Still, through tracking the number of Lazarus sub-groups performing similar campaigns against defence contractors, they soon realised that the campaign extended much wider. While the malware used in the various campaigns were different, the initial modus operandi (M.O.) always remained the same: a fake recruiter contacted an employee through LinkedIn and eventually sent malicious components.

In this regard, they’ve continued with the same M.O. as in the past. However, ESET researchers have also documented the re-use of legitimate hiring campaign elements to add legitimacy to their fake recruiters’ campaigns. Additionally, the attackers have used services such as WhatsApp or Slack in their malicious campaigns.

A fake recruiting campaign by LazarusIn 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice charged three IT programmers for cyberattacks working for the North Korean military. According to the U.S. government, they belonged to the North Korean military hacker unit known in the infosec community as Lazarus Group.Along with the new Lazarus research, ESET has been presenting about the “Past and Present Cyberwar in Ukraine” during the annual conference. ESET researcher Robert Lipovský has taken an in-depth look at the cyberwar during Russia’s war against Ukraine - including the latest attempt to disrupt the country's power grid using Industroyer2 and various wiper attacks.Alongside ESET Research at ESET World, former Commander of the International Space Station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and a key figure in ESET’s Progress Protected campaign has joined ESET CEO Richard Marko to discuss the intricacies of technology, science and life.

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