Israeli institutions have been targeted by an Arab-speaking hacker group that sought to extract sensitive documents, according to Trend Micro.
The campaign, which Trend called Operation Arid Viper, focused on sending phishing emails to targets. Those emails came with malware packaged with a short pornographic video, according to the company’s report.
The phishing emails were sent to targets including a government office, infrastructure providers, a military organization and academic institutions in Israel and Kuwait.
The attacks “targeted professionals who might be receiving very inappropriate content at work and so would hesitate to report the incident,” Trend wrote. “These victims’ failure to act on the threat could have then allowed the main malware to remain undiscovered.”
The malware then began hunting around on a victim’s hard disk for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and text files. It reported the files to the command and control server, which then decided which files to steal.
The command-and-control servers used by Arid Viper were “closely locked down, providing very little hint that could aid our investigation,” Trend said.
Trend found the Arid Viper attacks shared the same command-and-control infrastructure as another campaign it calls Advtravel, although the style of attacks are very different.
The company gained insight into Advtravel after a server connected with the operation was left open on the Internet.
“This allowed us to download copies of its entire content to study as part of our investigation before its owners realized their mistake and locked it down,” the report said.
The Advtravel attackers infected more than 500 systems of mostly Arabs living in Egypt. They focused on stealing images from victims’ computers, many of which were screenshots of Facebook profiles, perhaps in an attempt to identify victims.
“This could be a sign that they are looking for incriminating or compromising images for blackmail purposes,” Trend wrote. “As such, the attackers may be less-skilled hackers who are not after financial gain nor hacking for espionage purposes.”
Overall, the Advtravel attackers were much less skilled than Arid Viper. “They look like a classic group of beginner hackers just starting their careers,” Trend said.
Trend did extensive research into the email addresses used to register domain names use for Arid Viper’s command-and-control infrastructure as well as Advtravel, linking some possible actors to the Gaza Strip.
But it cautioned that such analysis was not definitive, as the attackers could have easily faked information required to register domain names.