An updated version of the MATA malware framework has been detected in cyberattacks that targeted Eastern European oil and gas companies and the defense industry from August 2022 to May 2023.
Furthermore, these attacks used spear-phishing emails to trick victims into downloading malicious executables exploiting a vulnerability in Internet Explorer. The MATA framework combines a loader, main trojan, and infostealer, enabling threat actors to establish backdoor access and persistence within compromised networks. While previous versions of MATA were linked to the North Korean Lazarus group, this updated variant demonstrated advanced capabilities.
The attackers not only breached a single domain controller but expanded their presence across the entire corporate network. They leveraged access to security solution admin panels, including those for endpoint protection and compliance checks, to monitor the organization’s infrastructure and distribute malware to its subsidiaries.
In some cases, Linux servers were targeted using a Linux variant of MATA. The malware’s latest version, in DLL form, possesses extensive remote control capabilities and supports various protocols and proxy server chains. It includes 23 commands and additional plugins for information gathering, process management, file manipulation, network reconnaissance, proxy functionality, and remote shell execution.
Additionally, researchers discovered a malware module capable of leveraging removable storage media like USB drives to infect air-gapped systems. The attackers utilized publicly available exploits to bypass endpoint detection and response (EDR) and security tools, rendering them ineffective. Despite previous associations with the North Korean Lazarus group, attributing the recent activity to a specific threat actor has proven challenging. The newer MATA variants and techniques displayed characteristics more closely related to ‘Five Eyes’ APT groups, such as Purple, Magenta, and Green Lambert, indicating a well-resourced and sophisticated threat actor.