United Nations (UN) branding is being abused in a campaign designed to spy on Uyghurs.
On Thursday, Check Point Research (CPR) and Kaspersky's GReAT team said that the campaign, likely to be the work of a Chinese-speaking threat actor, is focused on Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic minority found in Xinjiang, China.
Potential victims are sent phishing documents branded with the United Nations' Human Rights Council (UNHRC) logo. Named UgyhurApplicationList.docx, this document contains decoy material relating to discussions of human rights violations.
However, if the victim enables editing on opening the file, VBA macro code then checks the PC's architecture and downloads either a 32- or 64-payload.
Dubbed "OfficeUpdate.exe," the file is shellcode that fetches and loads a remote payload, but at the time of analysis, the IP was unusable. However, the domains linked to the malicious email attachment expanded the investigation further to a malicious website used for malware delivery under the guise of a fake human rights organization.
The "Turkic Culture and Heritage Foundation" (TCAHF) domain claims to work for "Tukric culture and human rights," but the copy has been stolen from opensocietyfoundations.org, a legitimate civil rights outfit.
This website, directed at Uyghurs seeking funding, tries to lure visitors into downloading a "security scanner" prior to filing the information required to apply for a grant. However, the software is actually a backdoor.
The website offered a macOS and Windows version but only the link to the latter downloaded the malware.
Two versions of the backdoor were found; WebAssistant that was served in May 2020, and TcahfUpdate which was loaded from October. The backdoors establish persistence on victim systems, conduct cyberespionage and data theft, and may be used to execute additional payloads.
Victims have been located in China and Pakistan in regions mostly populated by Uyghurs.
CPR and Kasperksy say that while the group doesn't appear to share any infrastructure with other known threat groups, they are most likely Chinese-speaking and are still active, with new domains registered this year to the same IP address connected to past attacks.
"Both domains redirect to the website of a Malaysian government body called the "Terengganu Islamic Foundation"," the researchers say. "This suggests that the attackers are pursuing additional targets in countries such as Malaysia and Turkey, although they might still be developing those resources as we have not yet seen any malicious artifacts associated with those domains."
Previous and related coverage
- New iOS exploit discovered being used to spy on China's Uyghur minority
- US adds 11 more Chinese companies to entity list for Uyghur human rights violations
- Tech giants push back on forced Uyghur labour claims
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