In June 2018, we came across an unusual set of samples spreading throughout South and Southeast Asian countries targeting diplomatic, government and military entities. The campaign, which may have started as far back as 2012, featured a multi-stage approach and was dubbed EasternRoppels. The actor behind this campaign, believed to be related to the notorious PLATINUM APT group, used an elaborate, previously unseen steganographic technique to conceal communication.
As a first stage the operators used WMI subscriptions to run an initial PowerShell downloader which, in turn, downloaded another small PowerShell backdoor. We collected many of the initial WMI PowerShell scripts and noticed that they had different hardcoded command and control (C&C) IP addresses, different encryption keys, salt for encryption (also different for each initial loader) and different active hours (meaning the malware only worked during a certain period of time every day). The C&C addresses were located on free hosting services, and the attackers made heavy use of a large number of Dropbox accounts (for storing the payload and exfiltrated data). The purpose of the PowerShell backdoor was to perform initial fingerprinting of a system since it supported a very limited set of commands: download or upload a file and run a PowerShell script.
At the time, we were investigating another threat, which we believe to be the second stage of the same campaign. We were able to find a backdoor that was implemented as a DLL and worked as a WinSock NSP (Nameservice Provider) to survive a reboot. The backdoor shares several features with the PowerShell backdoor described above: it has hardcoded active hours, it uses free domains as C&C addresses, etc. The backdoor also has a few very interesting features of its own. For example, it can hide all communication with its C&C server by using text steganography.