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Space Pirates Target Russian Aerospace

May 25, 2022 11:37:46 AM / by PolySwarm Tech Team

Space Pirates_Twitter

Background

Positive Technologies recently reported on an espionage campaign in which a previously unknown threat actor group targeted the Russian aerospace industry. Researchers at Positive Technologies dubbed the group Space Pirates.

About The Campaign

Positive Technologies first encountered the campaign in late 2019 after discovering a phishing email targeting an entity in the Russian aerospace industry. The malware payload was previously unknown. In 2020, Positive Technologies researchers again encountered the same malware while responding to an incident at a Russian government organization. During the course of the investigation, researchers discovered multiple malware families leveraging the same infrastructure. In mid-2021, the researchers encountered similar attacks at two more organizations.


The campaign targeted government agencies and IT departments, aerospace, and critical infrastructure in Russia, Georgia, and Mongolia. The threat actor also reportedly targeted multiple Chinese entities in the financial vertical.

According to Positive Technologies, the TTPs in the campaign do not clearly match any known APT group. They named the previously unknown group Space Pirates. The researchers presume the threat actors are of Chinese nexus due to the presence of the Chinese language in resources, SFX archives, and PDB paths, as well as due to TTP overlaps with previously identified Chinese threat actor groups.

Multiple tools used in the campaign included MyKLoadClient, Zupdax, Downloader.Climax.A, Downloader.Climax.B, RTLShare, PlugX, BH_A006, and Deed RAT.

MyKLoadClient

MyKLoadClient was distributed via spearphishing emails. It is a loader using SFX archives combined with DLL side-loading through an auxiliary launcher library signed by McAfee Inc. The launcher gives threat actors close control over the infection.


Zupdax

Zupdax backdoor is written in C++ and has been active since at least 2014. It appears to be the same as the Korplug payload. Zupdax uses the UDT protocol to interact with the C2. It collects and sends system information and allows the threat actors to interact with the victim’s machine.


Downloader.Climax.A and Downloader.Climax.B

In this campaign, the threat actors utilized two loaders using Russian text decoy documents. Downloader.Climax.A is associated with bamo.ocry[.]com, 45.77.244[.]191, and 45.76.145[.]22. Researchers could not determine which malware the downloader delivered. Downloader.Climax.B leverages vulnerabilities in Microsoft Equation Editor.


RTLShare

The RTLShare payload is based on the same code used in PcShare backdoor but has its own execution chain involving three separate DLLs. The initial infection stage uses rtlstat.dll, which exports a single embedding function and extracts the next stage library rtlmake.dll. In its end-stage activity, the dropper launches the extricated DLL using regsvr32.exe and then deletes itself. The rtlmake.dll injector extracts the next stage DLL and injects its code into the rdpclip.exe process. The final DLL is rtlmain.dll, which is based on the code of PcMain, the main PcShare backdoor module.


PlugX

PlugX is a backdoor RAT used by both criminals and multiple state-sponsored threat actor groups. In the variant used in the Space Pirates campaign, the main payload is implemented as a DLL, as with other PlugX versions. In the Space Pirates sample, the PLUG string differed from most variants, with the value of 0xCF455089, and the size of the configuration was non-standard at 0x1924 bytes. Some instances of this variant are extracted using a dropper with the executable named demo.exe.


BH_A006

BH_A006 has a modified Gh0st backdoor as a payload.


Deed RAT

Deed RAT is a modular backdoor, previously unknown to researchers. Deed RAT’s C2 is ftp.microft.dynssl[.]com, which appears to be a part of threat actor-controlled infrastructure. The payload execution scheme is similar to that of PlugX, using a legitimate EXE file signed by Trend Micro to load a malicious DLL during execution, which in turn executes the encrypted shellcode from a tmp file. The shellcode is the main module loader. The module has three sections with different access rights. The first section contains executable code and the RX rights set for its memory area. The other two sections have the RW rights.


The main backdoor loads and manages plugins that implement various functions, and its data section contains eight encrypted plugins. Each plugin performs five utility operations: initialization, getting the numeric plugin ID, getting the name of the plugin, obtaining a link to the structure in the plugin’s API functions, and releasing resources. The network plugin extracts the C2 address as a URL string and selects one of the connectors available in the NetSocket plugin. Messages are compressed using the LZNT algorithm and are encrypted using a random key with a modified Salsa20 algorithm. The backdoor also allows the malware to obtain a new C2 via the HTTP protocol. The backdoor is capable of collecting information about the system, creating a separate connection for working with plugins, removing itself, issuing empty commands, deactivating the connection, uploading shellcode for an injection stored in the registry, and updating the main shellcode on disk.

Who are Space Pirates?

According to Positive Technologies, Space Pirates are a presumably Chinese nexus threat actor group active since at least 2017. Their main objectives are espionage and information theft. Their goals potentially point to state-sponsored activity, as the campaign closely aligns with intelligence collection requirements related to China’s 14th Five Year Plan. The current Five Year Plan spans from 2021-to 2025 and includes a focus on deep space exploration and satellite-based communications networks.


Space Pirates use multiple tools not previously observed in the wild. Their TTPs include but are not limited to spearphishing, MyKLoadClient, BH_A006, and Deed RAT. They also use tools employed by other threat actor groups, including Zupdax backdoor, PlugX, ShadowPad, Poison Ivy, PcShare, and ReVBShell. Space Pirates network infrastructure includes a small number of IP addresses pointed to by DDNS domains. They also use third, fourth, and subsequent level domains, such as w.asd3.as.amazon-corp.wikaba[.]com. Positive Technologies researchers observed Space Pirates TTPs overlapping with multiple Chinese threat actor groups, including Winnti (APT41), Emissary Panda (APT27), TA428, Red Foxtrot, Mustang Panda, and Night Dragon.

IOCs

Below is a selection of PolySwarm’s samples associated with this campaign. Contact us for additional samples.

947f042bd07902100dd2f72a15c37e2397d44db4974f4aeb2af709258953636f

949cb5d03a7952ce24b15d6fccd44f9ed461513209ad74e6b1efae01879395b1

35e36627dbbcb2b6091cc5a75ab26d9e5b0d6f9764bc11eb2851e3ebd3fbfe6e

730b9ee9f031c8c543664ee281c7988467a3c83eabbbde181aa280314a91ba41

16c2e10b2e3d74732edfae4a4fcc118600e9212162256434f34121fa41eaf108

b822a4ec46aacb3bb4c22fe5d9298210bfa442118ee05a1532c324a5f847a9e6

192499ad69ec23900f4c0971801e7688f9b5e1dc5d5365d3d77cb9bf14e5fd73

56b9648fd3ffd1bf3cb030cb64c1d983fcd1ee047bb6bd97f32edbe692fa8570

0bac8f569df79b5201e353e1063933e52cfb7e34cd092fc441d514d3487f7771

444d376d251911810f3f4b75923313b3726050153d50ad59deff5a0b8b1ada20



You can use the following CLI command to search for all Space Pirates samples in our portal:

$ polyswarm link list -f SpacePirates


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Topics: Russia, China, Aerospace, Downloader.Climax.B, Plug X, Space Pirates, MyKLoadClient, Zupdax, Downloader.Climax.A, RTLShare, BH_A006, Deed RAT

PolySwarm Tech Team

Written by PolySwarm Tech Team

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