Trend Micro Incorporated has exposed a new targeted attack campaign called "Safe" which compromised government ministries, technology firms, media outlets, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations from over 100 countries.
This campaign was first seen on October 2012. Macky Cruz, security focus lead of Trend Labs, Trend Micro Incorporated, explained their concern, "Those obvious threat campaigns are becoming increasingly well known within the security community." She said, "However, there are some new and smaller campaigns emerging as well, which could create successful and long-term compromises of high-value organizations and enterprises worldwide, and these campaigns cannot be ignored." These campaigns, such as "Safe", use small clusters of C&C servers, new malware as well as attack fewer targets.
The campaign involved nearly 12,000 unique IP addresses that were connected to two sets of command-and-control (C&C) servers with the countries involved being widely dispersed.
Number of IP addresses
United Arab Emirates
Figure 1: Breakdown of the top 15 Unique IP Address Locations
Trend Micro released a research paper which documented the operations of this "Safe" campaign along with their threat protection recommendations. Safe targeted its victims using spear-phishing emails containing a malicious attachment exploiting a Microsoft Office vulnerability (CVE-2012-0158) and leveraging social engineering techniques for initial intrusion. Furthermore, their research discovered in its finding that the average number of actual victims connected to the C&C server remained at 71 per day, with few if any day to day changes. The research also noted that the Safe campaign targeted specific industries and communities in specific regions as early as October 2012.
While determining the intent and identity of the attackers remains difficult, Trend Micro assessed that the Safe campaign is targeted and uses malware developed by a professional software engineer who may be connected to the cybercriminal underground in China. However, the relationship between the malware developers and the campaign operators themselves remains unclear.
Implementation of Trend Micro solutions will help prevent and detect attacks related to the Safe campaign. Trend Micro recommends a comprehensive security risk management strategy that goes further than advanced protection to meet the real-time threat management requirements of dealing with targeted attacks.