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A Deeper Look at the Phishing Campaigns Targeting Bellingcat Researchers Investigating Russia

On July 26th, ThreatConnect published an analysis of a coordinated phishing attack against Bellingcat, an investigative journalism website that specializes in fact-checking and open-source intelligence. Known for their work investigating Russia, Bellingcat researchers were carefully chosen targets, as stated by Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins on Twitter

Highly focused, the phishing campaign targeted the digital security of only ten individuals, who have been identified by investigative journalist Christo Grozev. These include some researchers who do not work for Bellingcat but do investigate Russia.

ProtonMail, the email service used in the phishing attack, published a short statement, which included some fascinating details on the phishing attack from their perspective.

Introduction

In this article, we’ll explore a different angle to this campaign by analyzing it from the unique outside-in perspective of RiskIQ. RiskIQ data reveals multiple phishing campaigns involving different tactics beyond the analysis by ThreatConnect. 

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Analyst

Elevate Your Investigations With Collaboration & Organization: PassiveTotal Projects

Projects within RiskIQ PassiveTotal make it easy for analysts to gather and share digital threat intelligence about current and ongoing digital threat investigations and known digital threat infrastructure. PassiveTotal Projects help you organize related digital threat infrastructure elements such as:

  •      Domains
  •      IPs
  •      website trackers, and
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Analyst

Context is Everything: Using Tags and Classifications in RiskIQ PassiveTotal

As an analyst, how much time can you afford to waste at work?

Do you have eight hours to spend investigating those 203 suspect hosts only to learn a fellow analyst has already determined two weeks ago that they are registered to your company?  

Or, what if you had to stop mid-investigation to address a different priority—wouldn’t it be great to come back to an investigation and know how your research had manifested up to that point?

The attack surface of your enterprise is always expanding, and that growth has increased the importance of correlating internal activity with what is happening outside the firewall. This changing threat landscape is why most successful security programs are providing analysts with real-time context to improve the efficiency and outcomes of their investigations so they can discover additional threat infrastructure and block it proactively.

PassiveTotal: Context, All in One Place

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Labs Analyst

MarkOfTheWeb: How a Forgetful Russian Agent Left a Trail of Breadcrumbs

MarkOfTheWeb: A Calling Card for Careless Russian Agents

Digital interference from the Russian Federation is nothing new. Their virtual trespassing efforts have been outed and heavily discussed in the news—even more so in recent months (as you've probably noticed). Russian digital incursion into the United States political climate allows them to adjust the direction of discourse and push buttons when and where needed to help achieve a desirable outcome for the Kremlin. To carry out these active measures, the Russian state relies not only on agents and spies who do physical work but also those who operate digitally.

Luckily, not all Russian digital agents are as smooth as James Bond. Sometimes, they slip up and leave traces of their origins. One such slip up occurred recently. In August 2017, the staff lead of Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was spear-phished by the digital arm of the Russian state in an attempt that resembled the infamous attacks against John Podesta and Colin Powell.

By downloading a login page directly from the internet, the agent attempted to fool the high-ranking staffer into giving up his credentials. However, unfortunately for our hapless Russian agent, the phishing page they spun up included more information than intended. With the breadcrumbs they left behind, we were able to tap into RiskIQ’s repository of internet data to trace the origin of the agent and uncover other targets, which gave us clues about their motives, which, suspiciously, seem to align with those of Russia.

Following Breadcrumbs to the Kremlin

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Analyst Interesting Crawls

Not so Fast – Some Online Scams Don’t Take No for an Answer

Some online scams literally don't take no for an answer.

Going beyond tricking users with flashy ads for fake products or prizes or scaring them into trying to download phony software with the goal of redirecting them elsewhere, some scammers go a step further—they don't even let their victims leave their page.

While doing page reviews for RiskIQ's scam model (link), I came across an interesting crawl. Because it was missing a screenshot and, strangely, there seemed to be a phone number in the URL pathway, I decided to take a closer look.

(hxxps://d7wbuen63chon.cloudfront[dot]net/new/index.html?phone=+1-855-500-0184#forward).  

Fig -1 PDF download prompt

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Analyst Interesting Crawls

Phone Scam Uses Scammy App That Infects Phones for Ad-clicking and Info-Stealing Controls Over 60,000 Devices

Also by Aaron Inness

At RiskIQ, we observe thousands of scam web pages in all forms—everything from fake pharmaceutical ads to phony prizes to spurious tech support and label them accordingly. In the mobile ecosystem, popular scams include ‘your device is running low!’, ‘you need to update your device!’ or ‘you need to install this antivirus to save your device!’ In today’s post, we’ll take a look at one of these scams that surfaced in our crawl data.

Although the app these scam pages send users to does its advertised function, it also has a nasty secret—it infects victims’ devices and comes with a side of information stealing and ad-clicking.

Cleanup required!

Many of the millions of scams we crawl at RiskIQ are relatively straightforward, but every once in a while we find something unique. Usually, scams point to other web pages, but in this case, we noticed one that redirects victims who click to Google Play, where they are served a malicious app. To get to the bottom of how the scam works from beginning to end, we pointed our investigative resources at it and outlined our findings below.

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Analyst Interesting Crawls

Linking Infrastructure from Phishing Data Exfiltrations

Phishing is still one of the most relentless and quickly evolving online threats facing today's businesses.

At RiskIQ, we process tons of web-related threat data, including phishing incidents. From various sources, we receive URLs which may be indicative of phishing, examine the pages with our web-crawling infrastructure, which experiences them as a real user would, and feed the data it collects through our machine-learning technology to classify each detected phishing page appropriately.

Phishing pages' infrastructure usually takes two forms: self-maintained custom infrastructure and abused or compromised infrastructure belonging to someone else. Below is an instance of a phishing page for email involving the latter. It's somewhat generic, but an excellent example of something commonly leveled against businesses: 

Phishing is still one of the most relentless threats facing today's businesses. We process tons of web-related threat data, including phishing incidents

Fig-1 Phishing page

Looking through some sources online, I dug up some additional instances of this phishing kit:

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Labs Analyst

New Attacks on Mew: Phishing MyEtherWallet Via Native Web Views on Android

Last week, we published an extensive report on MEWKit, a phishing ATS targeting visitors of MyEtherWallet (MEW) in elaborate ways—including resorting to a BGP hijack. But threats to users of MyEtherWallet aren’t a new thing by any means—phishing pages targeting the cryptocurrency platform, while not as sophisticated as MEWKit, have been going around for a very long time. In this blog, we’ll discuss another technique we’ve seen actors using in attacks against MyEtherWallet users to fool them out of their Ethereum wallet credentials.

The Lure

Cybercriminals are always thinking of new methods by which to perform their attacks. In the case of phishing, they come up with innovative ways of convincing victims that their website or, in this case, mobile app, is legitimate. New attacks leveraging MyEtherWallet are using messages on social media and posts on forums to spread illegitimate clones of the MyEtherWallet site, which is not a new tactic in and of itself, but something that has never been seen targeting MyEtherWallet users. In this attack, an actor sets up a fake Telegram group, supposedly for MyEtherWallet and its support team, to spread false messages. In fact, searching for MyEtherWallet on Telegram would surface a group with over nine thousand subscribers:

We'll discuss another technique we’ve seen actors using in attacks against MyEtherWallet users to fool them out of their Ethereum wallet credentials.

Fig-1 The actor-created Telegram group

The operator of this group forwarded the tweets sent from the official MyEtherWallet twitter account to the group, with one additional message—that there's a new MyEtherWallet client for Android. The general messaging in the group looked like this:

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Labs Analyst Interesting Crawls

SpeedFlash and ScrnSize: Fake Flash Updates with a Side of Domain Shadowing

Fake Flash download pages have come to be a marker for all manners of malicious activity. We’ve seen it in conjunction with exploit kits, banking Trojans, watering hole attacks, malvertising, adware, phishing, digital currency miners, and multitudes of other digital threats. Often, there are traffic distribution systems or other means of traffic filtering upstream of these sites and many campaigns use decoy sites to which they dump unwanted traffic rather than serving up the malicious payload.

Today, we’ll be looking at a redirection sequence that brings many of these malicious tactics together, showing evidence of a campaign that uses fingerprinting and filtering, domain infringement, domain shadowing, indicators of cookie tracking, and malicious downloads using fake Flash. From one redirect, we were able to uncover thousands of artifacts pointing to a more extensive malicious campaign preying on potentially thousands of victims.

Digging In

Below is a typical redirection sequence from this particular malicious campaign leading from an initial fingerprinting and redirection page to a page serving fake Flash to a “speed test” decoy page:

Fig-1 Sequence leading from fingerprinting page a page serving fake Flash which redirects to a speed test decoy page.

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