Sophisticated DownEx Malware Campaign Targeting Central Asian Governments


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Aug 17, 2014
Government organizations in Central Asia are the target of a sophisticated espionage campaign that leverages a previously undocumented strain of malware dubbed DownEx.

Bitdefender, in a report shared with The Hacker News, said the activity remains active, with evidence likely pointing to the involvement of Russia-based threat actors.

The Romanian cybersecurity firm said it first detected the malware in a highly targeted attack aimed at foreign government institutions in Kazakhstan in late 2022. Subsequently, another attack was observed in Afghanistan.

The use of a diplomat-themed lure document and the campaign's focus on data exfiltration suggests the involvement of a state-sponsored group, although the exact identity of the hacking outfit remains indeterminate at this stage.

The initial intrusion vector for the campaign is suspected to be a spear-phishing email bearing a booby-trapped payload, which is a loader executable that masquerades as a Microsoft Word file.

Opening the attachment leads to the extraction of two files, including a decoy document that's displayed to the victim while a malicious HTML application (.HTA) with embedded VBScript code runs in the background. The HTA file, for its part, is designed to establish contact with a remote command-and-control (C2) server to retrieve a next-stage payload. While the exact nature of the malware is not unknown, it's said to be a backdoor to establish persistence.


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