APT groups use Malaysian flight-themed email attachments as bait

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Experts at FireEye say firms were targeted with phishing emails mentioning the mysterious flight.
Experts at FireEye say firms were targeted with phishing emails mentioning the mysterious flight.

Researchers warn that advanced persistent threat (APT) attackers, much like other online saboteurs, are using Malaysian flight-related lures to target users.

Just last week, an ABC News affiliate reported findings of a Facebook campaign, which encouraged social media users to click a “shocking video” containing footage related to the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, before redirecting them to phishing sites.

Now, researchers at FireEye have revealed how APT groups seek to exploit public interest in the mysterious flight.

On Monday, FireEye analysts Ned Moran and Alex Lanstein published a blog post detailing multiple instances where different APT groups used malicious attachments tagged with attention-grabbing names, like “Malaysian Airlines MHH370” and “MH370 PM statement.”

Throughout the month of March, FireEye detected six APT campaigns that used the flight-themed emails as bait.

On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that, according to new data obtained on the missing flight, the plane had crashed into the Indian Ocean leaving no survivors among the 239 people on board. Despite the report, many involved in the search for the plane (which disappeared more than two weeks ago) remain unconvinced about the conclusion reached by Malaysian authorities.

FireEye noted that an APT group, dubbed “Admin@338,” sent phishing emails using the Malaysian ploy to a prominent U.S.-based think tank on March 14, as well as a foreign government in the Asian Pacific region on March 10.

The malware in the email targeting the U.S. organization was actually designed to look like a Flash video, “by binding a Flash icon to the malicious executable,” the blog post said.

The attachment was booby-trapped to execute a backdoor called “WinHTTPHelper,” FireEye said.

“While many APT actors have adopted strategic Web compromise as a delivery vector, it is apparent that spear phishing via email-based attachments or links to zip files remain popular with many threat actors, especially when paired with lures discussing current media events,” the blog post said. “Network defenders should incorporate these facts into their user training programs and be on heightened alert for regular spear phishing campaigns, which leverage topics dominating the news cycle.”

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