LatAm Banking Trojans Collaborate in Never-Before-Seen Effort

latin america banking trojan cooperation

Eleven different malware families are coordinating on distribution, features, geo-targeting and more.

Virus Bulletin 2020 — A loose affiliation of cybercriminals are working together to author and distribute multiple families of banking trojans in Latin America – a collaborative effort that researchers say is highly unusual.

Multiple, distinct malware families have plagued Latin American banking customers for years – the variants include Amavaldo, Casbaneiro, Grandoreiro, Guildma, Krachulka, Lokorrito, Mekotio, Mispadu, Numando, Vadokrist and Zumanek, according to ESET.

In examining these families over time, ESET researchers began to notice “some similarities between multiple families in our series, such as using the same uncommon algorithm to encrypt strings or suspiciously similar DGAs [domain-generation algorithms] to obtain C2 server addresses,” according to a Thursday analysis.

The trojans also share “practically identical implementation[s] of the banking trojans’ cores,” including sending notifications to operators, periodically scanning active windows based on name or title and using carefully designed pop-up windows designed to mimic banking apps and harvest information.

The families also share uncommon third-party libraries, string encryption algorithms, and string and binary obfuscation techniques, researchers said.

Flowchart of a typical distribution chain used by Latin American banking trojans. Click to enlarge. Source: ESET

What also caught the researchers’ eye is the fact that the banking trojans all use a very similar distribution flow. With typical malware, “a lot of time, we can predict which banking trojan is going to download based on the distribution flow,” said ESET researcher Jakub Souček, speaking on the research at the Virus Bulletin 2020 conference this week along with his colleague, Martin Jirkal. This isn’t the case with the Latin American trojans, he added.

“They usually check for a marker (an object, such as a file or registry key value used to indicate that the machine has already been compromised), and download data in ZIP archives,” according to the researcher. “Besides that, we have observed identical distribution chains ending up distributing multiple Latin American banking trojans. It is also worth mentioning that since 2019, the vast majority of these malware families started to utilize Windows Installer (MSI files) as the first stage of the distribution chain.”

Most Latin American banking trojans also share execution methods, including DLL side-loading of the same set of vulnerable software applications, and abusing a legitimate AutoIt interpreter. And, the collaboration also appears to extend to geo-targeting.

“Since late 2019, we see several [banking trojans] adding Spain and Portugal to the list of countries they target,” researchers said. “Moreover, different families use similar spam email templates in their latest campaigns, almost as if this were a coordinated move as well.”

It’s highly unlikely that separate malware gangs developed so many families with such a depth of similarities – which extend to “coding mistakes and things that don’t work,” Souček said. However, he stressed that it’s also unlikely that it’s one single group authoring all of the trojans.

This is borne out by the fact that one of the unique attributes of each trojan is the fake pop-up windows that they use.

“Even though the windows look similar (since they are designed to fool customers of the same financial institutions), we have not spotted multiple families using identical windows,” according to the research.

Given all of the evidence, it seems clear that with so many common ideas, as well as some personalization between the malwares, multiple threat actors are likely closely cooperating with each other.

Source: ESET

“Even though the sharing of knowledge among cybercriminals is not unusual, seeing so many examples of it in region-specific malware families with the same focus caught our attention,” Souček said, adding that it’s a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen elsewhere.

“Since we believe it is impossible for 11 different authors to have come up with so many common ideas and we don’t believe that one group is deliberately maintaining 11 different families at the same time, we conclude that the authors of these banking trojans communicate with each other,” he said. “This cooperation is extensive and it affects the vast majority of the families we have analysed. Such tight collaboration between malware families that share the same goal, are region-specific and are, in fact, expected to be competitors, is something we have never encountered before.”

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