Kimsuky strikes again - New social engineering campaign aims to steal credentials and gather strategic intelligence
June 2023 by SentinelLabs
In collaboration with NK News, a l subscription-based service that provides news and analyses about North Korea, SentinelLabs has been tracking a targeted social engineering campaign against experts in North Korean affairs from the non-government sector. The campaign focuses on theft of email credentials, delivery of reconnaissance malware, and theft of NK News subscription credentials. Based on the used malware, infrastructure, and tactics, the SentinelLabs team assessed with high confidence that the campaign has been orchestrated by the Kimsuky threat actor.
Kimsuky, a suspected North Korean advanced persistent threat (APT) group whose activities align with the interests of the North Korean government, is known for its global targeting of organisations and individuals. Operating since at least 2012, the group often employs targeted phishing and social engineering tactics to gather intelligence and access sensitive information.
The social engineering tactics and some infrastructure characteristics closely relate to a Kimsuky activity privately reported by PwC and discussed in an NSA advisory published during the writing of SentinelLabs’ investigation. The SentinelLabs team focuses on the specific targeting of expert analysts of North Korean affairs by impersonating NK News and stealing NK News credentials, and provide details on used TTPs to support collaborative hunting and detection efforts.
A hallmark of the activity is Kimsuky’s focus on establishing initial contact and developing a rapport with their targets prior to initiating malicious activities. As part of their initial contact strategy, the group impersonated Chad O’Carroll, the founder of NK News and the associated holding company Korea Risk Group, using an attacker-created domain, nknews[.]pro, which closely resembles the legitimate NK News domain nknews.org. The initial email requests the review of a draft article analysing the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
If the target engages in the conversation, Kimsuky uses the opportunity to deliver a spoofed URL to a Google document, which redirects to a malicious website specifically crafted to capture Google credentials. Kimsuky may also deliver a weaponised Office document that executes the ReconShark reconnaissance malware.
Further, Kimsuky’s objective extends to the theft of subscription credentials from NK News. To achieve this, they distribute emails that lure targeted individuals to log in on the malicious website nknews[.]pro, which masquerades as the authentic NK News site. The login form that is presented to the target is designed to capture entered credentials.
This Kimsuky activity indicates the group’s growing efforts to establish early communication and foster trust with their targets prior to initiating malicious operations, including the delivery of malware. Their approach highlights the group’s commitment to creating a sense of rapport with the individuals they target, potentially increasing the success rate of their subsequent malicious activities.
• The campaign has the objective of stealing Google and subscription credentials of a reputable news and analysis service focusing on North Korea, as well as delivering reconnaissance malware.
• Kimsuky engages in extensive email correspondence and uses spoofed URLs, websites imitating legitimate web platforms, and Office documents weaponised with the ReconShark malware.
• This activity indicates Kimsuky’s growing dedication to social engineering and highlights the group’s increasing interest in gathering strategic intelligence.
SentinelLabs remains actively engaged in monitoring the activities conducted by Kimsuky. The findings presented in their report highlight the group’s persistent commitment to targeted social engineering attacks and underscore the need for increased awareness and understanding of Kimsuky’s tactics among potential targets. Maintaining vigilance and implementing effective security measures are imperative to mitigate the risks posed by this persistent threat actor.