RANCOR Threat Group Leverages New Malware Strains in Targeted Espionage Attacks

New threat group RANCOR has been using previously undiscovered malware families to conduct espionage in Southeast Asia.

A previously unidentified threat group, RANCOR, is conducting malware-based espionage attacks in Singapore and Cambodia, according to a June 2018 report from Palo Alto Networks Unit 42. After observing the group throughout both 2017 and 2018, researchers identified two new malware strains: DDKONG and PLAINTEE.

Given the highly targeted distribution of this malware and the political nature of its decoy files, Palo Alto Networks concluded that RANCOR’s primary objective is likely espionage.

New Spear Phishing Campaign Could Have Far-Reaching Impact

RANCOR’s primary attack vector is spear phishing messages containing malicious attachments, such as Microsoft Excel files with embedded macros and HTML applications. The group also hosted decoy files on legitimate sites like Facebook and a Cambodian government website, according to a June 2018 IBM X-Force advisory. These decoy files contain details from public news articles focused primarily on political news and events.

RANCOR has only recently emerged, and at least one of its malware variants (PLAINTEE) has never been spotted in the wild before.

PLAINTEE leverages a custom User Datagram Protocol (UDP) to collect general system information and then creates a continuously operating beacon until a response is received from the command-and-control (C&C) server. With RANCOR already using KHRAT and DDKONG to infect targets, the group’s development and rapid implementation of brand new strains like PLAINTEE suggest an ability for rapid evolution — meaning RANCOR could quickly expand operations beyond Southeast Asia.

How Can Organizations Keep Abreast of New Malware Strains?

To stay ahead of emerging threat groups like RANCOR, IBM Security experts stress that cybersecurity professionals must both address in-house concerns and seek outside assistance. Security intelligence solutions powered by machine learning can help analysts detect potential decoys carrying DDKONG or PLAINTEE and prioritize their response accordingly.

Given the uniqueness of new malware strains such as these — and the increasing sophistication of the threat landscape at large — security experts also advise organizations to leverage the collective knowledge of the cybersecurity community and share threat intelligence to keep abreast of the latest developments.

Source: Palo Alto Networks

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