Kaspersky Lab researchers tracking the Olympic Destroyer threat that famously struck the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang with a destructive network worm have discovered that the hacking group behind it is still active. It appears to be targeting Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Russia, with a focus on organisations involved in protection against chemical and biological threats.
Olympic Destroyer is an advanced threat that hit organisers, suppliers and partners of the Winter Olympic Games 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea with a cybersabotage operation based on a destructive network worm. Many indicators pointed in different directions for the origins of the attack, causing some confusion in the info-security industry in February 2018. A few rare and sophisticated signs discovered by Kaspersky Lab suggested that Lazarus group, a North Korea-linked threat actor, was behind the operation. However, in March, the company confirmed that the campaign featured an elaborate and convincing false flag operation, and Lazarus was unlikely to be the source. Researchers have now found the Olympic Destroyer operation is back in action, using some of its original infiltration and reconnaissance toolset, and focusing on targets in Europe.
The threat actor is spreading its malware through spear-phishing documents that closely resemble the weaponized documents used in preparation for the Winter Olympics operation. One such decoy document referred to the ‘Spiez Convergence’, a bio-chemical threats conference held in Switzerland and organised by the Spiez Laboratory, an organisation that played a key role in the Salisbury attack investigation. Another document was targeting an entity of the health and veterinary control authority of Ukraine. Some of the spear-phishing documents uncovered by researchers carry words in Russian and German.
All final payloads extracted from the malicious documents were designed to provide generic access to the compromised computers. An open-source and free framework, widely known as Powershell Empire, was used for the second stage of the attack.
The attackers appear to use compromised legitimate webservers to host and control the malware. These servers use a popular open-source content management system (CMS) called Joomla. The researchers found that one of the servers hosting the malicious payload used a version of Joomla (v1.7.3) released in November 2011, which suggests that a very outdated variant of the CMS could have been used by the attackers to hack the servers.
Based on Kaspersky Lab telemetry and files uploaded to multi-scanner services, the interests of this Olympic Destroyer campaign appear to have been entities in Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Russia.
“The appearance, at the start of this year, of Olympic Destroyer with its sophisticated deception efforts, changed the attribution game forever and showed how easy it is to make a mistake with only fragments of the picture that are visible to researchers. The analysis and deterrence of these threats should be based on cooperation between the private sector and governments across national borders. We hope that by sharing our findings publicly, incident responders and security researchers will be better placed to recognise and mitigate such an attack at any stage in the future.” said Vitaly Kamluk, security researcher in Kaspersky Lab’s GReAT team.
In the previous attack, during the Winter Olympic Games, the beginning of the reconnaissance stage was a couple of months before the epidemic of the self-modifying destructive network worm. It is highly possible that Olympic Destroyer is preparing a similar attack with new motives. That is why we advise biological and chemical threat research entities to stay on high alert and launch an out-of-schedule security audit where possible.