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New SandStrike spyware targets Android users with booby-trapped VPN application

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In the third quarter of 2022, Kaspersky researchers uncovered a previously unknown Android espionage campaign dubbed SandStrike. The actor targets a Persian-speaking religion minority, Baháʼí, via distributing VPN app that contains highly sophisticated spyware. Kaspersky experts also discovered an advanced upgrade of DeathNote cluster and – together with SentinelOne – investigated never-seen-before malware Metatron. This, and other discoveries are revealed in Kaspersky’s latest quarterly threat intelligence summary.

To lure victims into downloading the spyware implants, adversaries set up Facebook and Instagram accounts with more than 1,000 followers and designed attractive religious-themed graphic materials, setting up an effective trap for adherents of this belief. Most of these social media accounts contain a link to a Telegram channel also created by the attacker.

In this channel, the actor behind SandStrike distributed a seemingly harmless VPN application to access sites banned in certain regions, for example, religious-related materials. To make this application fully functional, adversaries also set up their own VPN infrastructure.

However, the VPN client contains fully-functioning spyware with capabilities allowing threat actors to collect and steal sensitive data, including call logs, contact lists, and also track any further activities of persecuted individuals.

Throughout the third quarter of 2022, APT actors were continuously changing their tactics, sharpening their toolsets and developing new techniques. The most significant findings include:

● The new sophisticated malware platform targeting telecoms companies, ISPs and universities

Together with SentinelOne, Kaspersky researchers analyzed a never-seen-before sophisticated malware platform dubbed Metatron. Metatron primarily targets telecommunications, internet service providers, and universities in Middle Eastern and African countries. Metatron is designed to bypass native security solutions while deploying malware platforms directly into memory.

● The upgrade of advanced and sophisticated tools

Kaspersky experts observed Lazarus use the DeathNote cluster against victims in South Korea. The actor possibly used a strategic web compromise, employing an infection chain similar to that which Kaspersky researchers have previously reported, attacking an endpoint security program. However, experts discovered that the malware and infection schemes have also been updated. The actor used malware that hadn’t been seen before, with minimal functionality to execute commands from the C2 server. Using this implanted backdoor, the operator lay hidden in the victim’s environment for a month and collected system information.

● Cyber-espionage continues to be a prime aim of APT campaigns

In the third quarter of 2022, Kaspersky researchers detected numerous APT campaigns, whose main target is governmental institutions. Our recent investigations show that this year, from February onwards, HotCousin has attempted to compromise foreign affairs ministries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

“As we can see from the analysis of the last three months, APT actors are now strenuously used to create attack tools and improve old ones to launch new malicious campaigns. In their attacks, they use cunning and unexpected methods: SandStrike, attacking users via VPN service, where victims tried to find protection and security, is an excellent example. Today it is easy to distribute malware via social networks and remain undetected for several months or even more. This is why it is so important to be as alert as ever and make sure you are armed with threat intelligence and the right tools to protect from existing and emerging threats,” comments Victor Chebyshev, lead security researcher at Kaspersky’s GReAT.

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