Lazarus APT uses an Android app to target Samsung users in the South Korea

Pierluigi Paganini November 22, 2017

The North Korea linked group Lazarus APT has been using a new strain of Android malware to target smartphone users in South Korea.

The hacking campaign was spotted by McAfee and Palo Alto Networks, both security firms attributed the attacks to the Hidden Cobra APT.

The activity of the Lazarus APT Group surged in 2014 and 2015, its members used mostly custom-tailored malware in their attacks and experts that investigated on the crew consider it highly sophisticated.

This threat actor has been active since at least 2009, possibly as early as 2007, and it was involved in both cyber espionage campaigns and sabotage activities aimed to destroy data and disrupt systems.  Security researchers discovered that North Korean Lazarus APT group was behind recent attacks on banks, including the Bangladesh cyber heist.

According to security experts, the group was behind, other large-scale cyber espionage campaigns against targets worldwide, including the Troy Operation, the DarkSeoul Operation, and the Sony Picture hack.

The malicious code used in this last campaign is an Android malware delivered as an APK file that has been designed to mimic a Korean bible app that was published in the Google Play by a developer named GODpeople.

The malicious APK wasn’t available on the Google Play store and it is still unclear how the APT distributed it.

“The McAfee Mobile Research team recently examined a new threat, Android malware that contains a backdoor file in the executable and linkable format (ELF). The ELF file is similar to several executables that have been reported to belong to the Lazarus cybercrime group. (For more on Lazarus, read this post from our Advanced Threat Research Team.)” states McAfee.

“The malware poses as a legitimate APK, available from Google Play, for reading the Bible in Korean. The legit app has been installed more than 1,300 times. The malware has never appeared on Google Play, and we do not know how the repackaged APK is spread in the wild.”

Lazarus APT APK

According to McAfee, the malware delivers a backdoor as an executable and linkable format (ELF) file, it allows to take full control of the infected device.

The list of command and control (C&C) servers used by the Android backdoor includes IP addresses previously associated with to the Lazarus group.

Lazarus APT APK 2.png

Experts from Palo Alto Networks pointed out that the campaign appears to be aimed at Samsung device owners in South Korea.

“Unit 42 has discovered a new cluster of malware samples, which targets Samsung devices and Korean language speakers, with relationships to the malware used in Operation Blockbuster. The specific points of connection between these new samples and Operation Blockbuster include:

states the analysis from Palo alto Networks.

Experts from Unit 42 analyzed a PE file uploaded to VirusTotal that was used to deliver ELF ARM files and APK files from an HTTP server. The APK allows the attacker to gain full control on the target device.

Palo Alto Networks has collected evidence that links the malware with the Lazarus’s attack on the SWIFT banking system and the on Operation Blockbuster. The C&C infrastructure used in the latest attack is the same used in Lazarus’s campaigns.

“It is clear that source code was reused between previously reported samples and the cluster of new samples outlined by Unit 42. Additionally, command and control IPv4 addresses were reused by the malware discussed in this analysis. Technical indicators as well as soft indicators, such as APK themes and names, provide soft and tenable ties to the actors behind Operation Blockbuster and the HiddenCobra group.” concluded Palo alto Networks.


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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Lazarus APT, North Korea)

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