We are living difficult times. From pandemic to Russia-Ukraine war. I was tempt to let a white post for remembering such a devastating times in my personal web corner, but I came out with the idea to remember these times by analyzing an involved sample in current cyber-conflicts. I start looking for Malware and finally I found this interesting EXCEL file (md5 ahead) which took my attention for its name and for the first AV submission geo-location.
The spread -over email- artifact is named
Військові на Азовсталі.xls which translated from Ukrainian to English results in
Military on Azovstal.xls. The file name links that sample to the current Russian – Ukraine conflict. Indeed on 18-04-2022, CERT-UA released HERE a public note on this specific threat confirming both: the target (Ukraine government) and the malicious intent of the email threat.
But let’s analyze the infection phases and see if something really characteristics will come out. The following table sums up the first observable stage.
A romantic .xls file within MACRO is abused to deliver the second infection stage. Looking for static file indicators it is possible to appreciate the following naming conventions:
yevhejcum. According to google translate the first two strings represent the classic location based values that Microsoft Office automatically adds to file structure depending on your local configurations. In this specific case
ЭтаКнига translates from Russian to English in
This book while
Лист1 translates from Russian to English in
Sheet1. It could be a significant indicator of a strong probability that the involved threat actor was using a Russian speaking environment. From meta-tag analysis it comes out that creation time (
2022-04-18 10:52:06) match the “last_saved_time” which could highlight the presence of some automated tool to create the final payload (a normal behavior in criminal activities).
The following image shows the extracted MACRO behavior. Once you decoded strings from
unicode (for example by using cybercheff or your favorite tool) you would notice three main steps:
(1) the sample downloads an external file named
pe.dll (IoC follows)
(2) the MACRO cuts and pastes such a file into a
Windows Tasks directory and
(3) it runs pe.dll through
Usually having the
.dll without the “running command” results in a complicated reverse engineering exercise, in fact you have to decompile public exposed functions and later make assumptions on the ordered calls. But this is not the case. We do have the running command which turns to be:
undll32 C:\Windows\Tasks\pe.dll, DllRegisterServer. I bet most of you would easily recognize from the calling function
DllRegisterServer that we are facing a CobaltStrike beacon stager. The following image shows the the hex encoded MACRO function
The following table shows two interesting indicators decoded from
hex strings found in the first stage. Fascinating to find-out that only from specific IP addresses you would download the stager (
pe.dll). For example from Ukraine IP space you would get the artifact while you get a redirection to classic NGNX index page if you try to access from the UK IP address space. This is a nice indicator of targeting attack against Ukraine IP space. As mentioned the dropping website responds on plain port 80, no SSL involved so no certificate analysis, and the used Internet Protocol address is quite interesting as well. It is
188.8.131.52. The final address
0 is used to address an entire network and not for a single host, I believe it’s an interesting choice made by threat actor. The used IP is resolved by
kitchenbath.mckillican.com, a Canadian based kitchen maker. In fact
http://kitchenbath.mckillican.com/pe.dll makes you download the second stager (
pe.dll) as well.
The McKillican website is made in aspx technology and it looks like a custom website, it’s hard from this stage, to say if it has been compromised or if the threat actor compromised a DNS access by registering a new sub-domain (
kitchenbath.mckillican.com) or maybe performing a subdomain takeover attack. Another interesting IoC comes from the windows task creation. No renaming and no hidden links, just a plain and simple cut and paste to tasks directory. The second stager (
pe.dll) is a Windows PE file called through
DllRegisterServer entry point without any parameters. The
DllRegisterServer function is a void input function which tries to connect on Command and Control servers as follows. The sample clearly represent a CobaltStrike Beacon.
The following image shows a quick and dirty extract of a dynamic analysis in where we appreciate the requests to Command and Control. The calls are built on top of the memory and called in “round robin” until the first connection. The first try is on
dezword.com which resolves (during the analysis time) in
184.108.40.206. On Command and Control an SSL certificate (id:
433591488225082751283964515969855882309258 ) is issued on date
2022-03-22, issuer R3, made by
Cert UA made a nice VirusTotal graph linking many of the found indicators of compromise in its article 39708 available HERE and extracted to the following image.
The used IPs and Certificates are quite unique, no additional OSINT have been found (at the analysis time). The CobaltStrike beacon was pretty plain and no specific obfuscation techniques where found (beside the classic obfuscation practice mandatory in every malicious content in nowadays attacks). I believe this attack could be attributed to one of the criminal gangs supporting Russia, I hardly believe it’s something coming from government teams.
I have analyzed a malicious excel document aiming to attract military “clicks”. The document had a thematic Ukrainian name and, according to relative findings (meta tags), it looks like written from a Russian locale system. The dropped document comes from a -high probable compromised- Canadian based company website and implements CobaltStrike beacon which is run from a MACRO routine injected in a malicious excel file.
The used infection chain follows cyber-criminal malicious patterns, no complex attack patterns were found during the analysis. The command and control had restrictions on country but does not implement sophisticated controls on connected VPN providers or specific user agents. Moreover the used IP address for the dropping website ending with a
0 result quite original choice, definitely not coming from a network experienced professional.
It was possible to add two/IoC compared to the shared bulletin: domain name of staging server, certificate of staging server and command line executed by the first stage. From these indicators (especially from certificate) you might look for similarities in other servers and try to map a wide range of operations belonging with similar threat actor. This activity is out of scope for this post so not followed.
rundll32 C:\Windows\Tasks\pe.dll, DllRegisterServer
certificate id: 433591488225082751283964515969855882309258