State-Aligned Hackers Targeting SMBs, Financial Services, and Supply Chains State-aligned hackers from Russia, Iran, and North Korea are increasingly focusing their cyberattacks on small and medium businesses (SMBs) worldwide.
Proofpoint researchers have discovered that these advanced persistent threat (APT) actors are utilizing compromised SMB infrastructure for phishing campaigns, financially motivated attacks on SMB financial services firms, and supply chain attacks affecting SMBs.
The compromise of SMB infrastructure poses a tangible risk to SMBs, allowing APT actors to engage in financial theft and regional attacks on managed services providers (MSPs). Phishing data suggests that SMBs are becoming prime targets for state-aligned cyberattacks, with a continued rise expected throughout 2023.
Proofpoint’s research has unveiled instances of SMB domain and email address impersonation or compromise, indicating the use of credential harvesting and unpatched vulnerability exploitation. A specific APT group, TA473 (Winter Vivern), has been identified using compromised SMB infrastructure in phishing campaigns. TA473 targeted military, government, and diplomatic organizations across Europe, exploiting unpatched Zimbra web mail servers during the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Additionally, TA473 compromised SMB domains, including those of an artisanal clothing manufacturer in Nepal and a U.S.-based orthopedist, to deliver malware via phishing campaigns.
Financially motivated attacks by APT actors continue to pose a persistent threat to the financial services sector, with North Korean threat actors specifically targeting institutions to steal funds and cryptocurrency. Proofpoint observed a medium-sized digital banking institution in the U.S. receiving a phishing campaign from the North Korea-aligned TA444.
This underscores the significance of such attacks, as funds obtained are utilized to finance various aspects of North Korea’s governmental operations. TA444 employs social networking platforms like LinkedIn to engage with victims before delivering malicious links, showcasing linguistic versatility in English, Spanish, Polish, and Japanese.
APT actors are increasingly targeting vulnerable regional MSPs to initiate supply chain attacks. Regional MSPs, tasked with protecting numerous SMBs, often possess limited cybersecurity defenses, making them easier targets for APT actors.
Proofpoint’s research highlights the targeting of Israeli regional MSPs and IT support businesses by TA450 (MuddyWater), attributed to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. TA450 launched a phishing email campaign, directing victims to a legitimate installer for the remote administration tool Syncro via a compromised email address. Once installed, the remote administration tool acts as a remote access Trojan, facilitating intrusion activities through native tools and proprietary malware.
Overall, the escalating trend of state-aligned hackers targeting SMBs, financial services firms, and vulnerable supply chains emphasizes the urgent need for robust cybersecurity measures and proactive defense strategies to protect against these persistent threats.