After several months of activity, the actors behind the "Sea Turtle" DNS hijacking campaign are not slowing down. Cisco Talos recently discovered new details that suggest they regrouped after we published our initial findings and coverage and are redoubling their efforts with new infrastructure. While many actors will slow down once they are discovered, this group appears to be unusually brazen, and will be unlikely to be deterred going forward.
Additionally, we discovered a new DNS hijacking technique that we assess with moderate confidence is connected to the actors behind Sea Turtle. This new technique is similar in that the threat actors compromise the name server records and respond to DNS requests with falsified A records. This new technique has only been observed in a few highly targeted operations. We also identified a new wave of victims, including a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry, which manages the DNS records for every domain uses that particular country code, that access was used to then compromise additional government entities. Unfortunately, unless there are significant changes made to better secure DNS, these sorts of attacks are going to remain prevalent.
This new technique once again involved modifying the target domain's name server records to point legitimate users to the actor-controlled server. In this case, the actor-controlled name server and the hijacked hostnames would both resolve to the same IP address for a short period of time, typically less than 24 hours. In both observed cases, one of the hijacked hostnames would reference an email service and the threat actors would presumably harvest user credentials. One aspect of this technique that makes it extremely difficult to track is that the actor-controlled name servers were not used across multiple targets — meaning that every entity hijacked with this technique had its own dedicated name server hostname and its own dedicated IP address.
Since our initial report, Sea Turtle has continued to compromise a number of different entities to fulfill their requirements. We have identified some of the new primary targets as:
In terms of secondary targets, we have seen very similar targets as those previously reported, such as telecommunications providers, internet service providers and one registry.
- Government organizations
- Energy companies
- Think tanks
- International non-governmental organizations
- At least one airport