PseudoManuscrypt: a mass scale spyware attack campaign

December 17, 2021

In June 2021, Kaspersky ICS CERT experts identified malware whose loader has some similarities to the Manuscrypt malware, which is part of the Lazarus APT group’s arsenal. In 2020, the group used Manuscrypt in attacks on defense enterprises in different countries. These attacks are described in the report “Lazarus targets defense industry with ThreatNeedle”.

Curiously, the data exfiltration channel of the malware uses an implementation of the KCP protocol that has previously been seen in the wild only as part of the APT41 group’s toolset.

We dubbed the newly-identified malware PseudoManuscrypt.

The PseudoManuscrypt loader makes its way onto user systems via a MaaS platform that distributes malware in pirated software installer archives. One specific case of the PseudoManuscrypt downloader’s distribution is its installation via the Glupteba botnet (whose main installer is also distributed via the pirated software installer distribution platform). This means that the malware distribution tactics used by the threat actor behind PseudoManuscrypt demonstrate no particular targeting.

During the period from January 20 to November 10, 2021, Kaspersky products blocked PseudoManuscrypt on more than 35,000 computers in 195 countries of the world. Such a large number of attacked systems is not characteristic of the Lazarus group or APT attacks as a whole.

Targets of PseudoManuscrypt attacks include a significant number of industrial and government organizations, including enterprises in the military-industrial complex and research laboratories.

According to our telemetry, at least 7.2% of all computers attacked by the PseudoManuscrypt malware are part of industrial control systems (ICS) used by organizations in various industries, including Engineering, Building Automation, Energy, Manufacturing, Construction, Utilities, and Water Management.

The main PseudoManuscrypt module has extensive and varied spying functionality. It includes stealing VPN connection data, logging keypresses, capturing screenshots and videos of the screen, recording sound with the microphone, stealing clipboard data and operating system event log data (which also makes stealing RDP authentication data possible), and much more. Essentially, the functionality of PseudoManuscrypt provides the attackers with virtually full control of the infected system.

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Cyber attack, Malware, PseudoManuscrypt, spyware