July 17, 2014, Flight MH17, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a missile in mysterious circumstances. Flight MH17 was flying over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine when a Russian-made missile hit it. On October 13, the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) who investigated the incident published a detailed report.
According to Trend Micro, the Pawn Storm APT group has targeted the Dutch Safety Board to gather information regarding the status of the investigation.
The Dutch Safety Board (known as Onderzoeksraad) became a target of the cyber-espionage group before and after the safety board published their detailed report on the MH17 incident on October 13, 2015. We believe that a coordinated attack from several sides was launched to get unauthorized access to sensitive material of the investigation conducted by Dutch, Malaysian, Australian, Belgian, and Ukrainian authorities.” reported TrendMicro.
The security researchers discovered that the Pawn Storm cyber spies set up fake Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) and VPN servers designed to mimic servers of the Dutch Safety Board. The intent of the hackers was to gather login credentials of the employee at the Dutch Safety Board and reuse them to access the legitimate SFTP and VPN servers.
According to Trend Micro, this is the first time that it has collected evidence of direct APT’s attack on a VPN server.
“This is the first time we have seen direct evidence that an APT group attempted to get unauthorized access to a VPN server. The VPN server of the Safety Board looks to use temporary tokens for authentication. However, these tokens can be phished in a straightforward way and tokens alone do not protect against one-time unauthorized access by third parties, once the target falls for the phishing attack.” continues TrendMicro.
The Pawn Storm APT also targeted other organizations linked to the Dutch Safety Board, the hackers use a consolidated technique relying on bogus Outlook Web Access (OWA) server.
According to the experts, the Pawn Storm is a state-sponsored APT group linked to the Russian Government, the evidence collected by various security firms, the nature of the targets and the topic of interest of the group leaves no doubt.
In recent months, the Pawn Storm has also taken conducted several espionage campaigns against Syrian opposition groups and Arab countries that expressed their dissent to the Russian military intervention in Syria.
“Pawn Storm has also intensified attacks against Syrian opposition groups and Arab countries that voiced objections against the recent interventions of Russia in Syria. Last September, several Syrian opposition members in exile were the targets of advanced credentials attacks. Then in September and October 2015, several fake OWA servers were set up, targeting the military, ministries of defense, and foreign affairs of about all Arab countries that criticized the Russian intervention in Syria.”
(Security Affairs – Operation Pawn Storm, MH17)