In the past, AhnLab Security Emergency response Center (ASEC) had shared the “SparkRAT Being Distributed Within a Korean VPN Installer”  case post and the “Analysis of Attack Cases: From Korean VPN Installations to MeshAgent Infections”  case post which covered the SparkRAT malware being distributed through a Korean VPN service provider’s installer.
ASEC has recently identified similar malware strains being distributed while being disguised as setup files for Korean VPN service providers and marketing program producers. Unlike the past cases where SparkRAT was used, Sliver C2 was used in the recent attacks  and techniques to evade detection were employed.
As of now, most websites of the affected companies provide normal setup files available for download. It is therefore uncertain whether the malware strain has been distributed as installers in official websites before being rectified like in past cases, or if there are other distribution paths. However, an investigation of the malware strains involved revealed that they were all related to the software provided by the same program development company. Most malware samples had certificates disguised as valid ones from this company. There were also multiple samples signed with valid certificates.
Malicious installers are still uploaded on the software download website provided by this company, so users may be unaware of this fact and install the file in question. In light of these facts, it seems that the threat actor attacked the development company and distributed installers with malware strains. Such types of attacks are steadily being launched from the first half of 2023.
1. Past Attack Cases
Examining past cases show that a malicious setup file is uploaded to the website of a Korean VPN service provider instead of the normal installer. Accordingly, users may mistakenly think that they have executed a normal setup file, but a malware strain is also installed in the system and executed. The malicious installer in the initial attack was developed in .NET which simply created and executed the normal installer and the SparkRAT malware. SparkRAT is an open-source RAT type malware developed in Go lang. It provides features to control the infected system such as executing commands, exfiltrating information, and controlling processes and files.
Malware files continued to be uploaded to the website of this VPN company afterward. To prevent the malware from being detected, the tactic changed from directly dropping the malware strain to installing SparkRAT through a downloader. After SparkRAT (backdoor) was installed in the infected system, MeshAgent from MeshCentral was additionally installed to be used for remote desktop features.
2. Analysis of the Malware Currently Used in Attacks
Unlike the malicious installers of the past which were droppers that simultaneously installed the malware strain, the currently used type is both a downloader and injector type malware. All malware strains used in the attacks including the installer were developed in Go lang and were all obfuscated. SparkRAT, which was used by the threat actor in the past, is also a backdoor developed in Go lang. Dropper and downloader type malware types developed in Go lang were also used in subsequent attack stages. Sliver C2 which is being detected recently is also developed in Go lang. As such, it appears that the threat actor prefers the Go language for development.
The malicious installer connects to the C&C server and downloads encrypted configuration data. When conditions match, Sliver C2 is downloaded. Notepad (notepad.exe), a normal program, is executed before Sliver C2 is injected into this. Because these processes are carried out simultaneously with the task of creating and executing the normal setup file, users may think the file is normal.
The malicious installer also includes an anti-sandbox feature. The list of currently running processes is looked up and injection is only performed when a certain process is running. The list of processes to check for is encrypted at the following URL. The malware strain downloads this and decrypts it to use it for checking the conditions.
- Configuration download URL: hxxps://status.devq[.]workers.dev/
|Discord.exe, discord.exe, NexonPlug.exe, nexonplug.exe, OP.GG.exe, op.gg.exe, qq.exe, line.exe, QQGuild.exe, qqguild.exe, QQProtect.exe, qqprotect.exe, TrafficPro.exe, trafficpro.exe, WeChatAppEx.exe, wechatappex.exe, WeChatPlayer.exe, wechatplayer.exe, anydesk.exe, kakaotalk.exe, ldplayer.exe, logibolt.exe, obs64.exe, skype.exe, telegram.exe, wechat.exe, whale.exe|
These strings are the names of programs that are likely to be installed in ordinary user PCs. Because VPN services are mainly used by users to have unrestricted Internet access in China, many Chinese messenger names are also included. When conditions match, the malware downloads an encrypted Sliver C2 from an external source and decrypts it. Then it launches Notepad, a normal program, and injects Sliver C2 into this process.
- Sliver C2 Download URL: hxxps://config.v6[.]army/sans.woff2
Sliver C2 is an open-source penetration testing tool published on GitHub. Penetration testing tools are used for the purpose of checking the security vulnerabilities within the network and systems of companies and institutes. They can potentially be used for malicious purposes if placed in the hands of threat actors as they generally provide various features for each penetration testing stage. Major commercial penetration testing tools include Cobalt Strike and the open-source Metasploit. Recently, there have been multiple identified cases where Sliver C2 was used.
Instead of SparkRAT which was previously used, the threat actor employed Sliver C2 in attacks. probably because Sliver C2 supports more features than SparkRAT, a simple backdoor. Sliver C2 supports most features supported by the ordinary backdoor and RAT malware types such as process and file-related tasks, executing commands, uploading/downloading files, and capturing screenshots. It also provides various features needed for gaining control over internal networks such as privilege escalation, process memory dump, and lateral movement.
- Sliver C2 Name: PRETTY_BLADDER
- Sliver C2 C&C URL: hxxps://panda.sect[.]kr
3. Analysis of Additional Malware
While the malware strain used in the attacks was changed from SparkRAT to Sliver C2, the threat actor ultimately used the same MeshAgent in the end. Using Sliver C2 injected into notepad, the threat actor installed MeshAgent under the “%PROGRAMFILES%\Microsofts\Microsofts\preMicrosoft.exe” path.
Provided by MeshCentral, MeshAgent allows various system control commands such as command execution and file download, as well as remote desktop features such as VNC and RDP. Ordinary users may use these services to remotely manage the system, but the features can also be used for malicious purposes. The threat actor in this case probably used MeshAgent for remotely controlling the infected system.
- MeshAgent C&C URL: speed.ableoil[.]net:443
The threat actor installed Sliver C2 and MeshAgent to seize control over the infected system. Afterward, the attacker was able to perform various malicious behaviors such as exfiltrating user information saved in the PC or installing additional malware strains. According to the AhnLab Smart Defense (ASD) logs, the threat actor used MeshAgent to install an additional malware strain titled “m.exe”. The file “m.exe” is a malware type that captures webcam feeds and is also available publicly on GitHub. Like other malware strains, it is developed in Go lang. Using this malware type, the threat actor can capture images of the user in systems with webcam access.
4. Installers Used in Attacks
Currently, most VPN and marketing program provider websites hold only normal setup files, but there are companies who have not yet fully taken appropriate measures. In the case of a particular VPN company, a normal setup file is downloaded from the download link on the official website, but the website still contains a malicious installer that can be downloaded.
There are also malicious installers being distributed from the following software download site, which was found to be another website of the same program development company. The files are supposed to be font files, but they are actually malicious installers.
The above malware types are all signed with invalid certificates, stolen by the threat actor to disguise the files as installers. However, there are also multiple malware strains signed with a valid certificate from the appropriate program developer. Malware strains with valid signatures vary from malicious setup files disguised as those for various services, VPN execution files, and MeshAgent.
To summarize, while the specific circumstances are yet to be revealed, the threat actor is able to sign malware strains with valid certificates from the corresponding program development company. There are multiple identified malicious setup files disguised as being for various services provided by the said company.
Currently, a malware strain is being distributed through a certain program development company and there are many identified samples that have been signed with a valid certificate from this company. Accordingly, the malware may be distributed from other services provided by this developer. It has been confirmed that malware files are uploaded to the VPN company’s download page and the software download website.
The threat actor installed SparkRAT, Sliver C2, and MeshAgent which support features that allow the operator to control infected systems. Accordingly, the threat actor was able to perform various malicious behaviors such as stealing user information saved in the PC and installing additional malware strains.
When users download malicious installers from the website and proceed with the installation, the setup file not only installs malware but also the normal setup file as well, making it difficult to recognize the system has been infected with malware. Users must practice caution and update V3 to the latest version to prevent malware infection in advance.
– Trojan/Win.MeshAgent.C5457071 (2023.07.18.03)
– Trojan/Win.MeshAgent.C5459839 (2023.07.24.03)
– Downloader/Win.Agent.C5459845 (2023.07.24.03)
– Downloader/Win.Agent.C5459851 (2023.07.24.03)
– Data/BIN.EncPe (2023.07.25.00)
– e84750393483bbb32a46ca5a6a9d253c: Malicious installer
– eefbc5ec539282ad47af52c81979edb3: Malicious installer (31254396_hzczvmfw_….vpn1.1.1.exe)
– 10298c1ddae73915eb904312d2c6007d: Malicious installer (31254396_LO38iuSd_….Setup1.2.1.exe)
– b4481eef767661e9c9524d94d808dcb6: Malicious installer (31254396_a7z34P10_….Install2.1.7.exe)
– 70257b502f6db70e0c75f03e750dca64: Malicious installer (167775112_v17MGr85_167775039_EvimzM59_….VPNSetup188.8.131.52.exe)
– 1906bf1a2c96e49bd8eba29cf430435f: Malicious installer (167774990_A5TinsS6_….VPNInstaller1.0.4_230710.exe)
– 499f0d42d5e7e121d9a751b3aac2e3f8: Malicious installer (31254396_ORZNvfG9_….Fax1.0.0.exe)
– b66f351c35212c7a265272d27aa09656: Malicious VPN program
– ea20d797c0046441c8f8e76be665e882 : Malicious VPN program
– 73f83322fce3ef38b816bef8fa28d37b: Encrypted Sliver C2 (sans.font2)
– 5eb6821057c28fd53b277bc7c6a17465: MeshAgent (preMicrosoft.exe)
– 95dac8965620e69e51a1dbdf7ebbf53a: MeshAgent (Microsoft.exe)
– 23f72ee555afcd235c0c8639f282f3c6: MeshAgent (registrys.exe)
– 27a24461bd082ec60596abbad23e59f2: Webcam capturing malware (m.exe)
– hxxps://status.devq[.]workers.dev : Configuration data
– hxxps://config.v6[.]army/sans.woff2: Encrypted Sliver C2
– panda.sect[.]kr:443 : Sliver C2
– speed.ableoil[.]net:443 : MeshAgent
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