At least three different advanced persistent threat (APT) groups from across the world have launched spear-phishing campaigns in mid-March 2022 using the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war as a lure to distribute malware and steal sensitive information.
The campaigns, undertaken by El Machete, Lyceum, and SideWinder, have targeted a variety of sectors, including energy, financial, and governmental sectors in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
A second campaign is from the Iranian APT group known as Lyceum that Check Point said launched a phishing attack using an email purportedly about “Russian war crimes in Ukraine” to deliver first-stage .NET and Golang droppers, which are then used to deploy a backdoor for running files retrieved from a remote server.
Another example is SideWinder, a state-sponsored hacking crew that’s said to operate in support of Indian political interests and with a specific focus on its neighbors China and Pakistan. The attack sequence, in this case, employs a weaponized document that exploits the Equation Editor flaw in Microsoft Office (CVE-2017-11882) to distribute an information stealing malware.
The findings echo similar warnings from Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG), which disclosed that nation-state-backed threat groups from Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia and numerous other criminal and financially motivated actors are leveraging war-related themes in phishing campaigns, online extortion attempts, and other malicious activities.
“Although the attention of the public does not usually linger on a single issue for an extended period, the Russian-Ukrainian war is an obvious exception,” the Israeli company said. “This war affects multiple regions around the world and has potentially far-reaching ramifications. As a result, we can expect that APT threat actors will continue to use this crisis to conduct targeted phishing campaigns for espionage purposes.”