Security researchers targeted by North Korean hackers

The social engineering campaign involves establishing a social media presence as well as a fake research blog

An ongoing campaign orchestrated by state-backed North Korean cyber criminals has been targeting security researchers investigating vulnerabilities as well as those working in security development.

Specific researchers are being targeted by a novel social engineering method, according to Google’s Threat Analysis Group, and lured into downloading a malicious payload. These efforts involve building a credible social media presence, creating a fabricated security blog, and then inviting legitimate security researchers to offer guest contributions.

“Over the past several months, the Threat Analysis Group has identified an ongoing campaign targeting security researchers working on vulnerability research and development at different companies and organizations," said the organisation's Adam Weidemann.

“We hope this post will remind those in the security research community that they are targets to government-backed attackers and should remain vigilant when engaging with individuals they have not previously interacted with.”

The North Korean hackers first established a security research blog and multiple Twitter profiles to interact with potential targets. They have been using these fake profiles to post links to fake research material, publish videos of claimed exploits and for amplifying the reach of other accounts they control.

Their blog also contains convincing write-ups of vulnerabilities that have been previously disclosed, including guest contributions from legitimate security researchers who’ve unwittingly offered their analysis. This is all so the hackers can build credibility when approaching their targets.

Google’s researchers found one example of a supposed exploit that was fake, with the hackers earlier this month posting fabricated proof they can exploit CVE-2021-1647, a recently-fixed Windows Defender flaw

After establishing communication with their targets, the hackers would ask the researcher whether they wanted to collaborate on vulnerability research together. They would then provide the researcher with a Visual Studio Project. 

Within this file would be source code for exploiting the vulnerability, as well as an additional malicious DLL that would be executed through Visual Studio Build Events. This malware would immediately begin communicating with the North Korean command and control server when activated.

Google’s researchers also found evidence of researchers being infected with malware after visiting the fake security research blog by following a link on Twitter to a security write-up. 

Related Resource

Managing security risk and compliance in a challenging landscape

How key technology partners grow with your organisation

How to manage security risk and compliance - whitepaperDownload now

Shortly after clicking the link, a malicious service was installed on the researcher’s Window 10 system, and an in-memory backdoor began communicating with the command and control server.

The researchers have published a list of the known accounts the hackers have created, as well as aliases, on their blog detailing the campaign. These include multiple accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Telegram, Discord, Keybase and email. 

The Threat Analysis Group recommended that security researchers who are anxious they’re being targeted should use separate physical or virtual machines (VMs) for general web browsing, interacting with other researchers, and accepting files from third-parties.

Featured Resources

2021 Thales access management index: Global edition

The challenges of trusted access in a cloud-first world

Free download

Transforming higher education for the digital era

The future is yours

Free download

Building a cloud-native, hybrid-multi cloud infrastructure

Get ready for hybrid-multi cloud databases, AI, and machine learning workloads

Free download

The next biggest shopping destination is the cloud

Know why retail businesses must move to the cloud

Free Download

Recommended

Malware developers create malformed code signatures to avoid detection
malware

Malware developers create malformed code signatures to avoid detection

24 Sep 2021
Senate report slams agencies for poor cyber security
cyber security

Senate report slams agencies for poor cyber security

3 Aug 2021
Most employees put their workplace at risk by taking cyber security shortcuts
cyber security

Most employees put their workplace at risk by taking cyber security shortcuts

27 Jul 2021
New malware uses search engine ads to target pirate gamers
malware

New malware uses search engine ads to target pirate gamers

21 Jul 2021

Most Popular

Best Linux distros 2021
operating systems

Best Linux distros 2021

11 Oct 2021
Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Clash of the titans
Laptops

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Clash of the titans

11 Oct 2021
Supply chain breaches impacted 97% of firms in the past year
supply chain management (SCM)

Supply chain breaches impacted 97% of firms in the past year

12 Oct 2021