Trickbot gang and Lazarus APT, the hidden link behind an epochal phenomena

For the first time, experts shed the light on the link between the TrickBot gang and the North Korea-linked APT group Lazarus.

Security experts Sentinelone have published a report that for the first time sheds the light on the link between the TrickBot crimeware and the North Korea-linked APT group Lazarus.

For the first time, experts shed the light on the link between the TrickBot crimeware and the North Korea-linked APT group Lazarus.

According to the experts, the Lazarus APT group was using Anchor, a new TrickBot derivative project developed by the TrickBot crime gang.

“Research by the SentinelLabs’ team led by Vitali Kremez shows that a new TrickBot derivative project called ‘Anchor’ allows TrickBot customers access to higher-level APT-type functionality, tools and methods. These include loading frameworks such as Metasploit, Cobalt Strike and PowerShell Empire for further post-exploitation and clean-up routines to remove evidence of an attack.” reads the analysis published by SentinelLabs. “In their report, the SentinelLabs team reveal evidence that a known Lazarus toolkit, PowerRatankba, was loaded via the TrickBot Anchor project, thus unmasking the relationship between one of the world’s most successful crimeware operations and a nation-state actor interested not only in espionage but also financial reward”

The researchers discovered that North Korean hackers are renting access to hacking tools and access to compromised networks from the TrickBot operators.

Anchor is a collection of tools combined together into a new attack framework that enables TrickBot customers to target higher-profile victims. 

Instead of developing their own cyber arsenal, state-sponsored hackers choose to rent malware and hacking tools because this strategy allows them to speed-up the operations and make it hard the attribution of the attack.

SentinelOne researchers explained that the Anchor malware strain is provided as a TrickBot module, the gang is offering its customers access to its botnet and its tools, one of the most powerful botnetsof ever.

The group was very active bank frauds, ransomware and malware campaigns, and cryptojacking attacks.

“During our investigation of Anchor, we discovered the tool PowerRatankba that was previously linked to the purported North Korean group was, in fact, used in Anchor.” continues the report “The specific evidence pointed out that this Lazarus group toolkit was loaded via the TrickBot Anchor project pointing to the now-unmasked relationship between the tools attributed to TrickBot “Anchor” group and Lazarus.”

Security experts at Cybereason published an analysis that corroborates the SentinelOne’s attribution, but they didn’t observe the use of the Anchor framework by the Lazarus Group. Cybereason only monitored a new wave of targeted attacks against financial, manufacturing and retail businesses that involved the use of the Anchor framework.

“Similar to attacks previously reported by Cybereason, this campaign started with a TrickBot infection and progressed into a hacking operation targeting sensitive financial systems.” reads the report published by Cybereason.

“However, unlike previous operations that focused on causing a massive ransomware infection (Ryuk and LockerGoga) by compromising critical assets like the domain controller, this new operation is focused on targeting Point-of-Sale (PoS) systems. The campaign leverages a newly discovered malware family called Anchor exclusively for high-profile targets.”

The discovery made by the researchers is extremely important for the cybersecurity community, the integration of the tools used by the Lazarus group into the Anchor platform represents a dangerous evolution of the cybercrime-as-a-service evolution.

The integration of the APT approach into the model adopted by the Trickbot gang is scaring and “turned its enterprise into a holistic ecosystem of cybercrime, becoming an essentially new phenomenon.”

The availability of a shared infrastructure for multiple APT groups opens to new attack scenarios in which the attribution is quite impossible and the efficiency of the attack is potentially devastating.

The Anchor platform is composed of different submodules that implement various features to conduct multiple operations such as spreading laterally through a target network, installing backdoors, and targeting Point-of-Sale (POS) systems.

“The Anchor is not simply a new addition to a long list of TrickBot modules and projects, it is a conclusion of many years of the cybercrime evolution, a point at which all puzzles assemble.” concludes the experts.

“The ability to seamlessly integrate the APT into a monetization business model is evidence of a quantum shift. By accomplishing this integration, TrickBot overtly demonstrates that they have achieved a qualitatively new level of a cybercrime enterprise, which was never seen before in magnitude and complexity superseding and dethroning the legacy of its previous inspiration and its playground known as “Business Club.””

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – TrickBot Group, hacking)

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