APT42 refers to an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group, the OilRig group. APT groups are sophisticated cyber threat actors that conduct long-term cyber espionage campaigns.

APT42 refers to an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group, the OilRig group. APT groups are sophisticated cyber threat actors that conduct long-term cyber espionage campaigns, often with a specific target in mind. These groups are typically associated with nation-states or state-sponsored entities.

2023 Global Mobile Threat Report

APT42 (i.e., OilRig) has been linked to activities targeting organizations in the Middle East, particularly those in the energy, telecommunications, and government sectors. The group has shown particular interest in organizations related to geopolitics and regional conflicts. They are known for using various tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to gain unauthorized access to systems, conduct espionage, and achieve their strategic goals.

APT42’s Goals

The specific goals of APT42 are often aligned with the interests of the nation-state or entity believed to be behind the group. APT groups generally engage in long-term and sophisticated cyber espionage campaigns to achieve various objectives such as Information Theft, Surveillance, and Disruption.

APT42’s Tactics and Techniques

APT42, or OilRig, employs various tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) in its cyber espionage campaigns. It’s important to note that the tactics and techniques used by APT42 may evolve as the group adapts to changes in technology and security measures. Some common tactics and techniques associated with APT42 are:

How APT42 Uses Spear Phishing Tactics

Spear phishing is a targeted attack in which cybercriminals customize their deceptive messages to a specific individual or a select group. Unlike generic phishing emails sent to many people in the hope that some will fall for the scam, spear phishing is more personalized and tailored to the characteristics and interests of the targeted recipients.

Critical characteristics of spear phishing include:

  • Personalization: Spear phishing emails are crafted to appear as if they come from a trusted source, such as a colleague, boss, or a service the recipient uses. Attackers often gather information about the target from publicly available sources, social media, or previous data breaches to make their messages more convincing.
  • Specific Targets: The attackers choose specific individuals or organizations as their targets. Targets could include employees of a particular company, government officials, or individuals with access to valuable information.
  • Deceptive Content: The content of spear phishing emails is designed to trick the recipient into taking a specific action, such as clicking on a malicious link, downloading an infected attachment, or providing sensitive information like login credentials.
  • Impersonation: Attackers may impersonate a trusted entity, such as a coworker, a boss, a bank, or a government agency, to increase the likelihood that the recipient will fall for the deception.

To protect against spear phishing, individuals and organizations should be cautious when opening emails, especially those with unexpected attachments or links. Employee training, email filtering, and advanced cybersecurity solutions can also help mitigate the risks associated with spear phishing attacks.

How APT42 Uses Watering Hole Tactics

A watering hole attack is a type of cyber attack in which the attacker compromises a website likely to be visited by members of a specific target group. The goal is to infect the computers of the targeted individuals or organizations who visit the compromised website. The term “watering hole” is derived from the predatory behavior of some animals that wait near watering holes for their prey.

Here’s how a watering hole attack typically works:

  • Website Compromise: The attackers then compromise a website frequented by target group members. This website could be a site that the target group commonly visits for information, news, or resources. The attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in the website or inject malicious code to infect visitors.
  • Malicious Payload: The compromised website is injected with a malicious payload, such as malware or code that exploits vulnerabilities in the visitors’ browsers. When individuals from the target group visit the infected site, their computers become compromised.
  • Exploitation: Once infected, the attackers can use the compromised systems as a foothold to further their objectives. Their objectives may involve stealing sensitive information, conducting espionage, or launching additional attacks within the target organization.

To defend against watering hole attacks, individuals and organizations should keep their systems and software up-to-date, use security tools such as antivirus and anti-malware programs, and be cautious when visiting websites, especially those that may interest a specific industry or group. Web administrators should also prioritize website security to minimize the risk of compromise.

How APT42 Uses Malware Deployment Tactics

Malware deployment refers to the process by which malicious software, commonly known as malware, is introduced and executed on a target system or network with the intent of causing harm, stealing information, or carrying out other malicious activities. Malware can take various forms, including viruses, worms, Trojans, ransomware, and spyware. The deployment of malware is a critical step in many cyber-attacks and can be executed through different methods. Here are some common ways in which malware is deployed:

  • Email Attachments and Links: Cybercriminals often use phishing emails to distribute malware. These emails may contain malicious attachments or links. The malware is executed on their system if the recipient opens the attachment or clicks the link.
  • Drive-By Downloads: Malware can be silently downloaded and installed on a user’s device when they visit a compromised or malicious website. This compromise can happen without the user’s knowledge or consent through vulnerabilities in their web browser or plugins.
  • Infected Software Installers: Attackers may compromise legitimate software installers, injecting malicious code. When users download and install the infected software, malware is also installed on their system.
  • Malvertising: Malicious advertising, or malvertising, involves the placement of malicious code within online advertisements. Users who click on or interact with these ads may unknowingly download and execute malware.

To defend against malware deployment, individuals and organizations should implement robust cybersecurity measures, including antivirus and anti-malware software, regular software updates, user education, awareness programs, and adopting best practices for email and web security.

How APT42 Uses Credential Theft Tactics

Credential theft refers to the unauthorized acquisition of usernames and passwords, often by malicious actors intending to gain unauthorized access to accounts, systems, or sensitive information. This type of cyber attack can have serious consequences, as compromised credentials can be used to impersonate legitimate users and access various services, networks, or applications.

Here are some standard methods used for credential theft:

  • Keylogging: Keyloggers are malicious software or hardware devices that record keystrokes on a compromised system. Attackers can obtain user credentials by capturing every keystroke, including usernames and passwords.
  • Credential Dumping: Once attackers gain access to a system, they may use techniques to extract stored credentials from the operating system or application databases. Credential dumping is often done after compromising a system through malware, exploiting vulnerabilities, or gaining unauthorized access.
  • Brute Force Attacks: Attackers may attempt to guess or systematically try different combinations of usernames and passwords until they find the correct ones. This method relies on the weakness of easily guessable or commonly used passwords.
  • Credential Phishing via SMS (Smishing): Similar to traditional phishing, smishing involves using text messages (SMS) to trick users into providing their credentials. The messages may contain links to fake login pages or encourage users to reply with sensitive information.

To mitigate the risk of credential theft, individuals and organizations should adopt strong authentication practices, use unique and complex passwords, enable multi-factor authentication (MFA), stay vigilant against phishing attempts, and keep systems and software updated to patch known vulnerabilities. 

How APT42 Uses Lateral Movement Tactics

Lateral movement refers to cyber attackers’ techniques and tactics to move horizontally across a network after initially gaining unauthorized access to one or more systems. Once an attacker has breached a system, lateral movement aims to explore and expand within the network to access additional resources, systems, or sensitive data. This lateral movement is often a crucial step in the progression of a cyber attack, allowing the attacker to establish a persistent presence and achieve their ultimate objectives.

Critical aspects of lateral movement include:

  • Privilege Escalation: Attackers seek to escalate their privileges to obtain higher network access levels after gaining initial access. Their objective may involve exploiting vulnerabilities, abusing misconfigurations, or using compromised credentials to gain administrative rights.
  • Remote Code Execution: Attackers may seek to execute code on remote systems to establish control once inside a network. Their purpose could involve exploiting vulnerabilities in software or using techniques like PowerShell or Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to run commands on remote machines.
  • Horizontal Exploration: Attackers move laterally by identifying and exploiting weaknesses in networked systems. They may scan the network, enumerate active directories, and search for valuable information or systems that can be compromised.
  • Data Exfiltration: While lateral movement primarily involves moving within the network, attackers may also exfiltrate data during this process. They locate and access sensitive data, preparing for its extraction from the network.

Detecting and preventing lateral movement is a critical aspect of network security. Security measures include implementing strong access controls, segmenting networks, monitoring for unusual or suspicious activity, and using intrusion detection and prevention systems to identify and block malicious behavior. Regular security audits and assessments can help organizations identify and address potential vulnerabilities attackers may exploit during lateral movement.

How APT42 Uses Persistence Tactics

Persistence, in the context of cybersecurity and cyber attacks, refers to the ability of malware or unauthorized users to maintain a presence or foothold on a compromised system or network over an extended period. Achieving persistence is critical for attackers seeking access, control, and the ability to carry out malicious activities without being easily detected or removed.

Here are some standard techniques used to establish persistence:

  • Registry Entries: Malware or attackers may create entries in the Windows Registry or other operating system configuration settings. These entries may include instructions to execute the malware whenever the system boots up or a specific user logs in.
  • Startup Programs: Malicious code can be added to startup programs or scripts, ensuring it runs each time the system starts. This technique enables the malware to persist across system reboots.
  • Service Installation: Malware may install itself as a service on the compromised system. Service installation allows it to run in the background, even if no user is logged in, providing persistent access and functionality.
  • File System Modifications: Malicious actors may modify system files or place their code in system directories. This modification can include replacing legitimate system files or creating hidden directories for storing malicious components.
  • Hooking and Injection: Malware may use techniques such as hooking into system processes or injecting code into running processes to ensure it remains active and undetected.
  • Patching and Backdooring: In some cases, attackers may patch or modify legitimate software on a system to introduce vulnerabilities or backdoors that they can exploit later for continued access.

Detecting and preventing persistence mechanisms is a crucial focus for cybersecurity professionals. Security measures include regular system monitoring, endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions, vulnerability management, and security best practices to minimize the attack surface and secure system configurations. Regular security audits and assessments are also essential for identifying and mitigating persistence techniques employed by attackers.

How APT42 Uses Zero-Day Exploits Tactics

A zero-day exploit is a cyber attack that takes advantage of a software vulnerability unknown to the software vendor and is not yet addressed or patched. The term “zero-day” refers to the fact that there are zero days of protection for users between the time the vulnerability is discovered by attackers and the time a security patch is released.

Key points about zero-day exploits include:

  • Unknown Vulnerability: Zero-day exploits target vulnerabilities in software applications, operating systems, or other digital systems that the software vendor is unaware of. Zero-day exploits give attackers an advantage because security measures and patches have yet to be developed to address the vulnerability.
  • Limited Defense: Since there is no existing patch or defense mechanism for a zero-day vulnerability, users are vulnerable to attacks until the software vendor identifies the issue, develops a fix, and releases a security update.
  • High Value: Zero-day vulnerabilities are considered highly valuable in the cybercriminal underground and are often sold on the dark web to governments, intelligence agencies, or other entities interested in using them for targeted attacks.
  • Responsible Disclosure: When security researchers discover a zero-day vulnerability, they can responsibly disclose it to the affected vendor, allowing them to develop a patch before the information becomes public. Responsible disclosure enables the vendor to mitigate the risk for users.

To defend against zero-day exploits, organizations should adopt best practices such as Regular Updates, Network Segmentation, Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), and Security Awareness Training. While it’s challenging to eliminate the risk of zero-day exploits, a proactive and layered security approach can help minimize the impact and protect against a range of threats.

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