Low-tech hackers hack supposedly high-tech government sites

A previously undiscovered hacking group uses well-worn electronic espionage techniques – some more than a decade old – to infect about 500 government agency computers so far over the past year.
Bitdefender says that Netrepser is a malware campaign that represents a new intelligence collection program aimed at a specific set of [foreign] IP government addresses that has not been documented before.

It adds that cyber espionage groups don’t necessarily need to invest large amounts of money into powerful malware programs. And a well patched and maintained system would have prevented this incursion.

Bogdan Botezatu, Senior e-Threat Analyst at Bitdefender, says “Netrepser is stitched together with freeware utilities to carry a complex job through to completion. This is the exact opposite of complex, targeted malware framework, military-grade APT it has seen recently.”

The malware comes with an array of methods to steal information, ranging from keylogging to password and cookie theft. It is built around a legitimate, yet controversial freeware recovery toolkit provided by Nirsoft.

The controversy stems from the fact that the applications provided by Nirsoft are used to recover cached passwords or monitor network traffic via powerful command-line interfaces that can be instructed to run completely covertly.

While malware-laced e-mail – JavaScript or JavaScript Encoded file – is the primary infection vector, Bitdefender cannot exclude the possibility that other versions of the attack use different infiltration techniques.

What is different is that Netrepser seems to have access to inside information to construct socially engineered phishing email that has a better chance of being opened. It includes reference to employees, exit interviews, and other internal matters.

Once infected the malware can be used by other groups to “game the system” and it seems the purpose is primarily to exfiltrate confidential data, locate admin logins and passwords, forensic inspection, system information, and keylogging.

After the exfiltration, the hackers have a kill switch to clean up and remove evidence of their involvement.

Bitdefender states it is releasing information on this campaign to help organizations that act in a potentially sensitive sector better understand the impact of malware.


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