A North Korea-linked APT group tracked as Sun Team has targeted North Korean deflectors with a malicious app that was published in the official Google Play store.
The campaign, named RedDawn by security experts at McAfee, is the second campaign attributed conducted by the same APT group this year.
Experts noticed that this is the first time the APT abused the legitimate Google Play Store as the distribution channel. In a past campaign spotted in January, a group of North Korean deflectors and journalists was targeted via social networks, email, and chat apps.
Researchers at McAfee discovered that the malware was on Google Play as ‘unreleased’ versions and it accounts for only around 100 infections, they also notified it to Google that has already removed the threat from the store.
Once installed, the malware starts copying sensitive information from the device, including personal photos, contacts, and SMS messages, and then sends them to the threat actors.
McAfee found that the hackers managed to upload three applications to Google Play – based on the email accounts and Android devices used in the previous attack. The apps include Food Ingredients Info, Fast AppLock, and AppLockFree. They stayed in Google Play for about 2 months before being removed.
“Our recent discovery of the campaign we have named RedDawn on Google Play just a few weeks after the release of our report proves that targeted attacks on mobile devices are here to stay.” reads the post published by the security firm.
“We found three apps uploaded by the actor we named Sun Team, based on email accounts and Android devices used in the previous attack.”
The experts discovered three apps in the app store, the first one named 음식궁합 (Food Ingredients Info), provides information about food, the remaining apps, Fast AppLock and AppLockFree, are security applications.
While the 음식궁합 and Fast AppLock apps are data stealer malware that receives commands and additional executable (.dex) files from a cloud control server, the AppLockFree is a reconnaissance malware that prepares the installations to further payloads.
The malware spread to friends, asking them to install the malicious apps and offer feedback via a Facebook account with a fake profile promoted 음식궁합.
“After infecting a device, the malware uses Dropbox and Yandex to upload data and issue commands, including additional plug-in dex files; this is a similar tactic to earlier Sun Team attacks.” continues the report. “From these cloud storage sites, we found information logs from the same test Android devices that Sun Team used for the malware campaign we reported in January,”
The logs collected by the malicious apps appear similar to other logs associated with the Sun Team APT group, in an apparently poor opsec the attackers used email addresses for malware’ developers associated with the North Korea group.
Of course, we cannot exclude that this is an intentional false flag to make hard the attribution of the attack.
The malware used in this campaign has been active at least since 2017, researchers observed numerous versions of the same code.
Threat actors are not native South Korean, but familiar with the culture and language.
“In the new malware on Google Play, we again see that the Korean writing in the description is awkward. As in the previous operation, the Dropbox account name follows a similar pattern of using names of celebrities, such as Jack Black, who appeared on Korean TV.” continues the analysis published by McAfee,
“These features are strong evidence that the actors behind these campaigns are not native South Koreans but are familiar with the culture and language. These elements are suggestive though not a confirmation of the nationality of the actors behind these malware campaigns.”
The attackers tested their malware in with mobile devices from several while the exploit code found in a cloud storage revealed modified “versions of publicly available sandbox escape, privilege escalation, code execution exploits.”
Some of the exploits were modified by the attackers, but experts believe that developers are currently not skillful enough to develop their own zero-day exploits,
The Sun Team hackers were observed creating fake accounts using photos from social networks and the identities of South Koreans. In addition to stealing identities, the hackers are using texting and calling services to generate virtual phone numbers that allow them to sign up for online services in South Korea.
(Security Affairs – Sun Team APT, malware)