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A look into Transparent Tribe: the prolific espionage campaign after military and government related personnel

August 2020 by Kaspersky

In January 2019, Kaspersky started an investigation into an ongoing campaign launched by a group known as Transparent Tribe to distribute the Crimson Remote Access Trojan (RAT). The attacks started with malicious Microsoft Office documents being sent to the victims through the use of spear-phishing emails. In only a year, researchers have found more than 1,000 targets across almost 30 countries. The research also revealed new, previously unknown components of Crimson RAT, indicating that it is still under development. These are among the findings from the first part of the investigation, published by Kaspersky.

Transparent Tribe (also known as PROJECTM and MYTHIC LEOPARD) is a very prolific group that is well-known in the cybersecurity industry for its massive espionage campaigns. Its activity can be traced back as far as 2013 and Kaspersky has had an eye on the group since 2016.

Its favorite method of infection is malicious documents with an embedded macro. Its main malware is a custom .NET RAT - publicly known as Crimson RAT. This tool is composed of different components, allowing the attacker to perform multiple activities on infected machines – from managing remote file systems and capturing screenshots to perform audio surveillance using microphone devices, record video streams from webcams and steal files from removable media.

While the group’s tactics and techniques have remained consistent over the years, Kaspersky research has shown that the group has constantly created new programs for specific campaigns. During its exploration into the group’s activities in the last year, Kaspersky researchers spotted a .NET file that was detected by the company’s products as Crimson RAT. A deeper investigation, however, has shown that it was something different – a new server-side Crimson RAT component used by the attackers to manage infected machines. Coming in two versions, it was compiled in 2017, 2018 and 2019, indicating that this software is still under development and the APT group is working on ways to improve it. With the updated list of components used by Transparent Tribe, Kaspersky was able to observe the group’s evolution and how it stepped up its activities, started massive infection campaigns, developed new tools and increased its attention on Afghanistan.

Overall, considering all components that have been detected between June 2019 and June 2020, Kaspersky researchers have found 1,093 targets across 27 countries. The most affected nations are Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, and Germany.

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