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Google: North Korean actors targeting vulnerability researchers

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Google says the company has identified an ongoing hacking campaign that targets security researchers who work on research and development for vulnerabilities in different businesses and organizations, and that the attackers are believed to be backed by North Korea.

In a blog, Google Threat Analysis Group (TAG) claims that the actors behind the hacking campaign used several tools and activities to target researchers, including social engineering attacks that target researchers via Twitter and fake blogs from security researchers.

To bolster its credibility with legitimate security researchers, the group has created a research blog and several Twitter profiles to interact with the security research community. Blogs and articles include analysis of publicly disclosed vulnerabilities and guest posts from unintentional legitimate security researchers.

However, some of the exploits the group claimed to have found were bogus, including a claimed exploit of a recently patched Windows Defender vulnerability. Several comments on the video hosted on YouTube indicated that the research was bogus.

The TAG post included a detailed description of the new social engineering the group has undertaken to inspire security researchers to collaborate with them.

Read more: Microsoft, Google, and other big tech companies join legal fight against hacking firm NSO Group

After establishing a line of communication with the researchers, the group would ask to collaborate on the vulnerability research, and then provide the researchers with a Visual Studio project.

In the Visual Studio project, there would be source code to exploit the vulnerability, as well as an additional DLL that would be executed through Visual Studio Build Events, according to the TAG. The DLL is custom malware that would immediately begin communicating with C2 domains controlled by the actor.

Read more: Microsoft, Google, and other big tech companies join legal fight against hacking firm NSO Group

Other methods included compromising researchers after visiting the fake vulnerability research blog. After following a link on Twitter to a blog post, a malicious service was installed on the search system and an in-memory backdoor would start reporting to a command and control server owned by the actor, according to the article.

At the time of these visits, the victimized systems were running fully patched and up-to-date Windows 10 and Chrome browser versions, Googles TAG published. At that time, we were not able to confirm the compromise mechanism, but we welcome any information that others may have.

Other platforms used to communicate with targets include LinkedIn, Telegram, Discord, Keybase, and email.

So far, researchers have only observed actors targeting Windows systems as part of this activity.

If you are worried about being targeted, we recommend compartmentalizing your search activities using separate physical or virtual machines for general web browsing, interacting with other members of the search community, agreeing to third party files and your own security research, Google security. team posted.

For a list of social media accounts, links, and indications of compromise, read the Googles blog post.



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