After several months of activity, the actors behind the “Sea Turtle” DNS hijacking campaign are not slowing down, according to a blog post on Cisco’s Talos Intelligence blog post this week. And one of their targets appears to have been the Greek ccTLD .gr.
The Sea Turtle hijacking campaign appears to have recently regrouped after Cisco Talos in April 2019 published “their initial findings and coverage and are redoubling their efforts with new infrastructure. While many actors will slow down once they are discovered, this group appears to be unusually brazen, and will be unlikely to be deterred going forward.”
Cisco Talos also “identified a new wave of victims, including a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry, which manages the DNS records for every domain uses that particular country code, that access was used to then compromise additional government entities. Unfortunately, unless there are significant changes made to better secure DNS, these sorts of attacks are going to remain prevalent.”
According to the Talos blog, “the Institute of Computer Science of the Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (ICS-Forth), the ccTLD for Greece, acknowledged on its public website [see here in Greek only] that its network had been compromised on April 19, 2019. Based on Cisco telemetry, we determined that the actors behind the Sea Turtle campaign had access to the ICS-Forth network.”
“Cisco telemetry confirmed that the actors behind Sea Turtle maintained access to the ICS-Forth network from an operational command and control (C2) node. Our telemetry indicates that the actors maintained access in the ICS-Forth network through at least April 24, five days after the statement was publicly released. Upon analysis of this operational C2 node, we determined that it was also used to access an organization in Syria that was previously redirected using the actor-controlled name server ns1[.]intersecdns[.]com. This indicates that the same threat actors were behind both operations.
“We also saw evidence that the threat actors researched the open-source tool PHP-Proxy. Notably, this particular C2 node searched for both blog.talosintelligence.com and ncsc.gov.uk, presumably to view Talos’ previous reports on DNS hijacking and this DNS hijacking advisory from the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre.”
The Talos Intelligence blog also notes they they now have “moderate confidence that the threat actors behind Sea Turtle have been using another DNS hijacking technique. This new technique has been used very sparingly, and thus far have only identified two entities that were targeted in 2018, though we believe there are likely more.
“This new technique once again involved modifying the target domain’s name server records to point legitimate users to the actor-controlled server. In this case, the actor-controlled name server and the hijacked hostnames would both resolve to the same IP address for a short period of time, typically less than 24 hours. In both observed cases, one of the hijacked hostnames would reference an email service and the threat actors would presumably harvest user credentials. One aspect of this technique that makes it extremely difficult to track is that the actor-controlled name servers were not used across multiple targets — meaning that every entity hijacked with this technique had its own dedicated name server hostname and its own dedicated IP address. Whereas previously reported name server domains such as ns1[.]intersecdns[.]com were used to target multiple organizations.
“In one case, a private organization primarily used a third-party service as their authoritative name server. Then, for a three-hour window in January 2018, their name server records were changed to a name server hostname that mimicked a slightly different version of the organization’s name. During that three-hour window, the actor-controlled IP address hosted three hostnames, the two actor-controlled name servers and the webmail hostname. This would allow the threat actors to perform a man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack, as outlined in our previous post, and harvest credentials. This technique was also observed against a government organizations in the Middle East and North African region.”
For the technically minded, to read the Cisco Talos Intelligence blog post in full, go to: https://blog.talosintelligence.com/2019/07/sea-turtle-keeps-on-swimming.html