New Cyber Espionage Group Targeting Ministries of Foreign Affairs – E Hacking News
Researchers unveiled a new cyber espionage group on Thursday, which is behind the series of targeted operations attacking diplomatic entities and telecommunication corporations in Africa and the Middle East since at least 2017.
The campaign, dubbed “BackdoorDiplomacy,” involves exploiting flaws in internet-exposed devices like web servers to carry out various cyber-hacking operations, including moving laterally across the network to execute a custom implant called Turian which is capable of exfiltrating sensitive data stored on removable media.
Jean-Ian Boutin, head of threat research at Slovak cybersecurity firm ESET said, “BackdoorDiplomacy shares tactics, techniques, and procedures with other Asia-based groups. Turian likely represents a next stage evolution of Quarian, the backdoor last observed in use in 2013 against diplomatic targets in Syria and the U.S.”
The cross-platform group, which targets both Windows and Linux operating systems, singles out management interfaces for networking equipment and servers with internet-exposed ports, most likely abusing unsecured flaws to implement the China Chopper web shell for initial access, which is then used to conduct reconnaissance and install the backdoor.
F5 BIG-IP devices (CVE-2020-5902), Microsoft Exchange servers, and Plesk web hosting control panels are among the systems affected. Victims have been identified in many African countries’ foreign ministries and those in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Furthermore, in Africa and at least one Middle Eastern country, telecom carriers have also been hit.
The researchers stated, “In each case, operators employed similar tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), but modified the tools used, even within close geographic regions, likely to make tracking the group more difficult.”
BackdoorDiplomacy is also believed to overlap with previously reported campaigns operated by a Chinese-speaking group Kaspersky tracks as “CloudComputating.
According to ESET researchers, apart from its features to gather system information, take screenshots, and carry out file operations, Turian’s network encryption protocol is nearly identical to that used by WhiteBird, a C++ backdoor operated by an Asia-based threat actor named Calypso that was installed within diplomatic organizations in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan at the same timeframe as BackdoorDiplomacy.