This Malware Analysis Report (MAR) is the result of analytic efforts among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Department of Treasury (Treasury) to highlight the cyber threat to cryptocurrency posed by North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and provide mitigation recommendations. Working with U.S. government partners, FBI, CISA, and Treasury assess that Lazarus Group—which these agencies attribute to North Korean state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) actors—is targeting individuals and companies, including cryptocurrency exchanges and financial service companies, through the dissemination of cryptocurrency trading applications that have been modified to include malware that facilitates theft of cryptocurrency.
This MAR highlights this cyber threat posed by North Korea and provides detailed indicators of compromise (IOCs) used by the North Korean government. The U.S. Government refers to malicious cyber activity by the North Korean government as HIDDEN COBRA. For more information on other versions of AppleJeus and recommended steps to mitigate this threat, see Joint Cybersecurity Advisory AA21-048A: AppleJeus: Analysis of North Korea’s Cryptocurrency Malware at https://www.us-cert.cisa.gov/ncas/alerts/AA21-048A.
There have been multiple versions of AppleJeus malware discovered since its initial discovery in August 2018. In most versions, the malware appears to be from a legitimate-looking cryptocurrency trading company and website, whereby an unsuspecting individual downloads a third-party application from a website that appears legitimate.
The U.S. Government has identified AppleJeus malware version—Ants2Whale—and associated IOCs used by the North Korean government in AppleJeus operations.
Ants2Whale, discovered in October 2020, is a legitimate-looking cryptocurrency trading software that is marketed and distributed by a company and website—Ants2Whale and ants2whale[.]com, respectively—that appear legitimate. Some information has been redacted from this report to preserve victim anonymity.
For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see: MAR-10322463-7.v1.stix.
Submitted Files (3)
|Type||zlib compressed data|
This OSX program from the Ants2Whale site is an Apple DMG installer. The OSX program does not have a digital signature and will warn the user of that before installation. As all previous versions of AppleJeus, the Ants2Whale installer appears to be legitimate and installs “Ants2Whale”(D5AC680E14B013E0624470DA7F46E84809D00B59A7544F6A42B110CF0E29254E) in the “/Applications/Ants2whale.app/Contents/MacOS/Ants2whale” folder and a program named Ants2WhaleHelper (BB430087484C1F4587C54EFC75681EB60CF70956EF2A999A75CE7B563B8BD694) also in the “/Library/Application\ Support/Ants2WhaleSupport/” folder.
Similar to all previous OSX AppleJeus variants, there is a postinstall script and a plist file which creates a LaunchDaemon to automatically run the Ants2WhaleHelper program.
The website appears to show a legitimate cryptocurrency company and application, though it does contain multiple spelling and grammar mistakes indicating the creator may not have English as a first language. The website states that in order to download, a user must contact the administrator as their product is “premium package.”
The domain ants2whale.com had a legitimately signed Sectigo Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, which was “Domain Control Validated” just as all previous AppleJeus domain certificates. The certificate was is valid from 09/21/2020 – 09/21/2021.
The domain is registered with NameCheap at the IP address 184.108.40.206 with ASN 22612. This IP is on the same ASN as the CoinGoTrade (AppleJeus variant 5 and Dorusio IP addresses (AppleJeus variant 6).
Figure 1 – Screenshot the ants2whale.com site.
Figure 2 – Screenshot of how to download Ants2Whale.
|Type||Mach-O 64-bit x86_64 executable, flags:<NOUNDEFS|DYLDLINK|TWOLEVEL|PIE>|
This OSX sample was contained within Apple DMG installer “Ants2Whale.dmg.” Ants2Whale is likely a copy of an open source cryptocurrency wallet application. When ran it loads a legitimate looking program which is fully functional and is very similar to the AppleJeus variant 5 “CoinGoTrade” application. Similar to CoinGoTrade there are references to “CryptoMex” in the Ants2Whale application.
Similarly to the CoinGoTrade application, the strings from Ants2Whale reveal the C2 hxxp[:]//220.127.116.11:3000. Investigation revealed the IP address 18.104.22.168 was hosted at Combahton GMH.
Figure 3 – Screenshot of the “Ants2Whale” application.
- 3000 TCP
Queried whois.ripe.net with “-B 22.214.171.124″…
% Information related to ‘126.96.36.199 – 188.8.131.52’
% Abuse contact for ‘184.108.40.206 – 220.127.116.11’ is ‘[email protected]’
inetnum: 18.104.22.168 – 22.214.171.124
status: ALLOCATED PA
org-name: combahton GmbH
address: Mitterfeld 47
e-mail: [email protected]
person: Joseph Hofmann
address: Mitterfeld 47
% Information related to ‘126.96.36.199/22AS30823’
The C2 for Ants2Whale (D5AC680E14B013E0624470DA7F46E84809D00B59A7544F6A42B110CF0E29254E).
|Type||Mach-O 64-bit x86_64 executable, flags:<NOUNDEFS|DYLDLINK|TWOLEVEL|BINDS_TO_WEAK|PIE>|
|ESET||a variant of OSX/TrojanDownloader.NukeSped.B trojan|
This OSX sample was contained within Apple DMG installer “Ants2Whale.dmg.” Ants2WhaleHelper is similar to variants of AppleJeus. The Ants2WhaleHelper program contains the custom C++ “Barbeque” class for network communication as seen in the unioncryptoupater program. The C2 for this program is hxxps[:]//www[.]qnalytica.com/wp-rss.php.
Whois for qnalytica.com had the following information:
Registrar: ENOM INC
Creation Date: 2020-08-11
Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2021-08-11
The domain qnalytica.com has a legitimately signed SSL certificate from cPanel. cPanel is a hosting platform and certificate authority which is a reseller for Sectigo. The domain is registered with NameCheap at the IP address 188.8.131.52 with ASN 60117.
CISA recommends that users and administrators consider using the following best practices to strengthen the security posture of their organization’s systems. Any configuration changes should be reviewed by system owners and administrators prior to implementation to avoid unwanted impacts.
- Maintain up-to-date antivirus signatures and engines.
- Keep operating system patches up-to-date.
- Disable File and Printer sharing services. If these services are required, use strong passwords or Active Directory authentication.
- Restrict users’ ability (permissions) to install and run unwanted software applications. Do not add users to the local administrators group unless required.
- Enforce a strong password policy and implement regular password changes.
- Exercise caution when opening e-mail attachments even if the attachment is expected and the sender appears to be known.
- Enable a personal firewall on agency workstations, configured to deny unsolicited connection requests.
- Disable unnecessary services on agency workstations and servers.
- Scan for and remove suspicious e-mail attachments; ensure the scanned attachment is its “true file type” (i.e., the extension matches the file header).
- Monitor users’ web browsing habits; restrict access to sites with unfavorable content.
- Exercise caution when using removable media (e.g., USB thumb drives, external drives, CDs, etc.).
- Scan all software downloaded from the Internet prior to executing.
- Maintain situational awareness of the latest threats and implement appropriate Access Control Lists (ACLs).
Additional information on malware incident prevention and handling can be found in National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-83, “Guide to Malware Incident Prevention & Handling for Desktops and Laptops”.