Red October Attackers Return With CloudAtlas APT Campaign

The attackers behind the Red October APT campaign that was exposed nearly two years ago have resurfaced with a new campaign that is targeting some of the same victims and using similarly constructed tools and spear phishing emails.

The attackers behind the Red October APT campaign that was exposed nearly two years ago have resurfaced with a new campaign that is targeting some of the same victims and using similarly constructed tools and spear phishing emails.

Red October emerged in January 2013 and researchers found that the attackers were targeting diplomats in some Eastern European countries, government agencies and research organizations with malware that could steal data from desktops, mobile devices and FTP servers. The attackers had a wide variety of tools at their disposal and used unique victim IDs and had exploits for a number of vulnerabilities. The Red October attacks began with highly targeted spear phishing emails, some of which advertised a diplomatic car for sale.

The new CloudAtlas campaign, disclosed Wednesday by researchers at Kaspersky Lab, also uses that same spear phishing lure and as targeted some of the same victims hit by Red October. Researchers believe the same group may be behind both campaigns, based on similarities in tactics, tools and targets.

“In August 2014, some of our users observed targeted attacks with a variation of CVE-2012-0158 and an unusual set of malware. We did a quick analysis of the malware and it immediately stood out because of certain unusual things that are not very common in the APT world,” researchers at Kaspersky said in an analysis of the attack. 

“At least one of them immediately reminded us of RedOctober, which used a very similarly named  spearphish: “Diplomatic Car for Sale.doc”. As we started digging into the operation, more details emerged which supported this theory. Perhaps the most unusual fact was that the Microsoft Office exploit didn’t directly write a Windows PE backdoor on disk. Instead, it writes an encrypted Visual Basic Script and runs it.”

Both Red October and CloudAtlas have targeted the same victims. Not just the same organizations, but some of the same machines.

Both Red October and CloudAtlas have targeted the same victims. Not just the same organizations, but some of the same machines. In one case, a machine was attacked only twice in the last two years, once by Red October and once by CloudAtlas. Both campaigns also hit victims in the same countries: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and India. The two campaigns also use similar malware tools.

“Both Cloud Atlas and RedOctober malware implants rely on a similar construct, with a loader and the final payload that is stored encrypted and compressed in an external file. There are some important differences though, especially in the encryption algorithms used – RC4 in RedOctober vs AES in Cloud Atlas,” Kaspersky researchers said.

“The usage of the compression algorithms in Cloud Atlas and RedOctober is another interesting similarity. Both malicious programs share the code for LZMA compression algorithm. In CloudAtlas it is used to compress the logs and to decompress the decrypted payload from the C&C servers, while in Red October the ‘scheduler’ plugin uses it to decompress executable payloads from the C&C.”

The C2 infrastructure for the CloudAtlas campaign is somewhat unusual. The attackers are using accounts at Swedish cloud provider CloudMe to communicate with compromised machines.

“The attackers upload data to the account, which is downloaded by the implant, decrypted and interpreted. In turn, the malware uploads the replies back to the server via the same mechanism,” the researchers said.

Officials at CloudMe said on Twitter that they are working to delete any CloudAtlas C2 accounts.

“Yes, we are permanently deleting all accounts that we can identify as involved in the #inception #cloudatlas #apt #surveillance,” the company said.

 Researchers at Blue Coat have also looked at the new campaign, which they’ve named Inception, and found that the attackers have created tools to compromise a variety of mobile platforms, as well.

“The framework continues to evolve. Blue Coat Lab researchers have recently found that the attackers have also created malware for Android, BlackBerry and iOS devices to gather information from victims, as well as seemingly planned MMS phishing campaigns to mobile devices of targeted individuals. To date, Blue Coat has observed over 60 mobile providers such as China Mobile, O2, Orange, SingTel, T-Mobile and Vodafone, included in these preparations, but the real number is likely far higher,” Snorre Fagerland and Waylon Grange from Blue Coat Lab wrote.

Image from Flickr photos of Kevin Dooley

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