Modern Reconnaissance Phase by APT – Protection Layer

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The Talos researchers are no stranger to APT attacks. During recent research, we observed how APT actors are evolving and how the reconnaissance phase is changing to protect their valuable 0-day exploit or malware frameworks. During the presentation, we will not speak about a specific malware actor but we will use various different cases to illustrate how the reconnaissance phase is becoming more important and more complex.

This talk will mainly focus on the usage of malicious documents (Microsoft Office and Hangul Word Processor) and watering hole attacks designed to establish if the target is the intended one. We will mention campaigns against political or military organizations targeting USA, Europa and Asia.

The techniques and the obfuscation put in place by these actors will be described in detail. We will explain how the Macros are used and how to desobfuscated them; how the JavaScript and the PowerShell are becoming unmissable languages and how to analyse these languages with standard debugger such as WinDBG or x64dbg; how APT actors includes Flash objects in document to bypass protection and perform reconnaissance on the target; finally, we will see how Python language is used by malware to execute code on MacOS. In some cases, the reconnaissance is performed directly by a first stage malware (PE32) and not directly by the infection vector, we will see an example of the approach that targeted South Korea public sectors at the end of December. At the end of the presentation, we will show different mitigations in applications (for example in Microsoft Office and Hangul Word Processor) and in the Microsoft Windows Operating System to help attendees protect their constituents against the treats described during the talk.