The CozyDuke, the last Russian APT group

Kaspersky Lab discovered another APT group dubbed CozyDuke which is believed to have hacked the US Department of State and the White House.

Experts at Kaspersky Lab have uncovered a new advanced persistent threat (APT) dubbed CozyDuke that targeted several high-profile organizations in the second half of 2014. Kaspersky experts have published an interesting blog post that includes numerous technical details on the espionage campaign run by the CozyDuke APT group.

The most interesting part of the investigation are the similarities between the are the similarities between the CozyDuke and other APT groups such as CosmicDukeMiniDuke, and OnionDuke.

The hackers belonging the CozyDuke APTs used spear phishing emails as an attack vector, sometimes the message includes links to malicious websites controlled by attackers and used to serve exploit kits, in other case the email included malicious Flash video attachments.

“The actor often spearphishes targets with e-mails containing a link to a hacked website.“ Kaspersky researchers explained in the report. “In other highly successful runs, this actor sends out phony flash videos directly as email attachments. A clever example is “Office Monkeys LOL Video.zip”. The executable within not only plays a flash video, but drops and runs another CozyDuke executable. “

Once compromised the targeted system, the malware checks for the presence of defense solutions from principal security vendors, including Kaspersky, Avira, Comodo, Crystal Security, Dr. Web and Sophos.

In order to elude defense solutions, the components of the CozyDuke executable are signed with fake Intel and AMD digital certificates.

The experts at Kaspersky discovered that one of the second stage modules of CozyDuke appears to have been developed on the same platform as OnionDuke.

“One of the second stage modules of CozyDuke/Cozy Bear, Show.dll, is particularly interesting because it appears to have been built onto the same platform as OnionDuke” continues the report.

This means that malicious codes used by CozyDuke and OnionDuke APTs were written by the same developers or the two development teams work together.

CozyDuke vs onionduke

The experts also noted that communications between the malicious code and their C&C servers are managed in the same way.

The experts explained that MiniDuke, OnionDuke, along with CosmicDuke are managed by Russian-speaking authors and some origin appear to have also CozyDuke.

“CozyDuke is definitely connected to these two campaigns, as well as to the OnionDuke cyberespionage operation,” explained Baumgartner, Principal Researcher at Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team “Every one of these threat actors continues to track their targets, and we believe their espionage tools are all created and managed by Russian-speakers.”

The coreshell and chopstick components for the CozyDuke backdoor remind experts of other advanced persistent threat actor, the APT28 group, which is considered a state-sponsored hacking collective.

“[CozyDuke’s] custom backdoor components appear to slightly evolve over time, with modifications to anti-detection, cryptography, and trojan functionality changing per operation. This rapid development and deployment reminds us of the APT28/Sofacy toolset, especially the coreshell and chopstick components,” Kaspersky researchers noted.

The experts at Kaspersky haven’t linked the CozyDuke to the Russian Government, but media agencies and many experts believe that the State Department and White House attacks were carried out by Russian hackers working for the Kremlin, which could be also the government behind these APTs.

The experts speculated that CosmicDuke, MiniDuke and OnionDuke are the products of Russian state-sponsored hackers because the campaigns targeted governments with an interest in Russian affairs. The fact that CosmicDuke operations targeted users of illegal substances may also indicate the involvement of law enforcement agencies of the Russian Government.

Experts have no doubts, the hackers behind CozyDuke campaign will continue their activities in the near future.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  CozyDuke APT, Russia)