A single Nigerian national working on his own has orchestrated numerous malware infection campaigns targeting more than 4,000 organizations globally over the past four months, Check Point security researchers say.
The attacks have been aimed various companies in industries such as oil & gas, manufacturing, banking, and construction, in an attempt to steal data and commit fraud. Many of these are leading international names and some have had their defenses breached by the attacks, the security researchers reveal.
According to Check Point, at least a dozen companies are confirmed to have been infected during the campaign, including a marine and energy solutions company in Croatia, a transportation company in Abu Dhabi, a mining company in Egypt, a construction company in Dubai, an oil & gas firm in Kuwait, and a construction organization in Germany.
Despite the large scale of the campaign, behind it is not an expert gang of cybercriminals or a nation state actor, but “a relatively unskilled man in his mid-20s, operating from a location near the capital of Nigeria,” Check Point discovered.
Working on his own, the Nigerian national uses fraudulent emails seemingly coming from oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco, the world’s second largest daily oil producer. The phishing messages target financial departments within companies in an attempt to trick employees into revealing company bank details or into opening a malware-infected attachment.
The malware used in these attacks includes NetWire, a remote access Trojan that provides its operator with full control over infected machines, and Hawkeye, a software for logging key strokes (malware already associated with Nigerian cybercriminals). The attacks eventually resulted in a total of 14 successful infections. The cybercriminal ended up earning thousands of dollars in the process, the researchers say.
Despite showing a low level of cyber-skills, using crude and unsophisticated fraudulent emails, with almost no research or social engineering involved in creating them, the attacker was successful in his attempts.
The attacker used generic email titles, phrased as “Dear Sir/Ms,” sent the same email to numerous targets, “all in blind carbon copy, urging victims to send back banking details, perhaps for future scams.” He sent the emails from email addresses firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.
The fraudster used old, generic and readily available online malware, as well as freeware to ‘scrape’ email addresses from corporate websites and used them as targets for his campaigns.
“The fact that the campaign was still effective, despite using only basic cyber-criminal techniques, highlights just how much of a problem these business email compromise (BEC) attacks have become,” Check Point said.
Last year, the FBI revealed that losses caused by BEC scams exceeded $3.1 billion. Victims are estimated to lose between $25,000 and $75,000 on average, per attack. However, it’s not only financial losses that victims should be concerned about, but also the fact that “the malware used by the criminal to infect organizations gives remote control over infected machines, and can perform keylogging functions. This enables harvesting of a variety of information from infected machines, such as details on the companies’ operations, assets and intellectual property.” Such details could be worth much more than the thousands of dollars obtained by fraud, Check Point says.
Another alarming aspect was that some of the targets are energy and infrastructure companies, which the unsophisticated cybercriminal was able to easily breach. Not only was the attacker able to compromise the networks of several large organizations, but he also managed to distribute his malware globally and remain under the radar for a long while.
“This highlights the need for all organizations to improve their security to protect against phishing and business email compromise scams, and to educate their employees to be cautious about opening emails, even from companies or individuals that they recognize,” Check Point said.