- Ukraine CERT (CERT-UA) has released new details on UAC-0026, which SentinelLabs confirms is associated with the suspected Chinese threat actor known as Scarab.
- The malicious activity represents one of the first public examples of a Chinese threat actor targeting Ukraine since the invasion began.
- Scarab has conducted a number of campaigns over the years, making use of a custom backdoor originally known as Scieron, which may be the predecessor to HeaderTip.
- While technical specifics vary between campaigns, the actor generally makes use of phishing emails containing lure documents relevant to the target, ultimately leading to the deployment of HeaderTip.
On March 22nd 2022, CERT-UA published alert #4244, where they shared a quick summary and indicators associated with a recent intrusion attempt from an actor they dubbed UAC-0026. In the alert, CERT-UA noted the delivery of a RAR file archive
"Про збереження відеоматеріалів з фіксацією злочинних дій армії російської федерації.rar", which translates to “On the preservation of video recordings of criminal actions of the army of the Russian Federation.rar”. Additionally, they note the archive contains an executable file, which opens a lure document, and drops the DLL file
"officecleaner.dat" and a batch file
"officecleaner". CERT-UA has named the malicious DLL ‘HeaderTip’ and notes similar activity was recorded in September 2020.
The UAC-0026 activity is the first public example of a Chinese threat actor targeting Ukraine since the invasion began. While there has been a marked increase in publicly reported attacks against Ukraine over the last week or so, these and all prior attacks have otherwise originated from Russian-backed threat actors.
Connection of HeaderTip to Scarab APT
Scarab has a relatively long history of activity based on open source intelligence. The group was first identified in 2015, while the associated IOCs are archived on OTX. As noted in the previous research, Scarab has operated since at least 2012, targeting a small number of individuals across the world, including Russia, United States, and others. The backdoor deployed by Scarab in their campaigns is most commonly known as Scieron.
During our review of the infrastructure and HeaderTip malware samples shared by CERT-UA, we identified relations between UAC-0026 and Scarab APT.
We assess with high confidence the recent CERT-UA activity attributed to UAC-0026 is the Scarab APT group. An initial link can be made through the design of the malware samples and their associated loaders from at least 2020. Further relationships can be identified through the reuse of actor-unique infrastructure between the malware families associated with the groups:
- 508d106ea0a71f2fd360fda518e1e533e7e584ed (HeaderTip – 2021)
- 121ea06f391d6b792b3e697191d69dc500436604 (Scieron 2018)
- Dynamic.ddns[.]mobi (Reused C2 Server)
As noted in the 2015 reporting on Scarab, there are various indications the threat actor is Chinese speaking. Based on known targets since 2020, including those against Ukraine in March 2022, in addition to specific language use, we assess with moderate confidence that Scarab is Chinese speaking and operating under geopolitical intelligence collection purposes.
Analysis of lure documents used for initial compromise can provide insight into those being targeted and particular characteristics of their creator. For instance, in a September 2020 campaign targeting suspected Philippines individuals, Scarab made use of lure documents titled “OSCE-wide Counter-Terrorism Conference 2020”. For context, OSCE is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
More recently, industry colleagues have noted a case in which Scarab was involved in a campaign targeting European diplomatic organizations during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The lure document reported by CERT-UA mimics the National Police of Ukraine, themed around the need to preserve video materials of crimes conducted by the Russian military.
Lure documents through the various campaigns contain metadata indicating the original creator is using the Windows operating system in a Chinese language setting. This includes the system’s username set as “用户” (user).
Malware and Infrastructure
Multiple methods have been in use to attempt to load the malware onto the target system. In the case of the 2020 documents, the user must enable document Macros. In the most recent version from CERT-UA, the executable loader controls the install with the help of a batch file while also opening the lure document. The loader executable itself contains the PDF, batch installer, and HeaderTip malware as resource data.
The batch file follows a simple set of instructions to define the HeaderTip DLL, set persistence under
HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run, and then execute HeaderTip. Exports called across the HeaderTip samples have been
OAService, as shown here.
The HeaderTip samples are 32-bit DLL files, written in C++, and roughly 9.7 KB. The malware itself will make HTTP POST requests to the defined C2 server using the user agent:
"Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; WOW64; Trident/7.0; rv:11.0) like Gecko". General functionality of HeaderTip is rather limited to beaconing outbound for updates, potentially so it can act as a simple first stage malware waiting for a second stage with more capabilities.
Scarab has repeatedly made use of dynamic DNS services, which means C2 server IP, and subdomains should not be considered related. In fact, some of the dynamic DNS services used by Scarab can easily link one to various unrelated APT groups, such as the infamous CloudHopper report or 2015 bookworm malware blogs. While those may be associated with Chinese APTs, it may indicate more of a standard operating toolkit and approach rather than shared technical resources.
We assess with high confidence the recent CERT-UA activity attributed to UAC-0026 is the Scarab APT group and represents the first publicly-reported attack on Ukraine from a non-Russian APT. The HeaderTip malware and associated phishing campaign utilizing Macro-enabled documents appears to be a first-stage infection attempt. At this point in time, the threat actor’s further objectives and motivations remain unclear.
Indicators of Compromise
|product2020.mrbasic[.]com||March 2022 C2 Server|
|8cfad6d23b79f56fb7535a562a106f6d187f84cf||March 2022 Ukraine file delivery archive “Про збереження відеоматеріалів з фіксацією злочинних дій армії російської федерації.rar”|
|e7ef3b033c34f2ac2772c15ad53aa28599f93a51||March 2022 Loader Executable “officecleaner.dat”|
|fdb8de6f8d5f8ca6e52ce924a72b5c50ce6e5d6a||March 2022 Ukraine lure document “#2163_02_33-2022.pdf”|
|4c396041b3c8a8f5dd9db31d0f2051e23802dcd0||March 2022 Ukraine batch file “officecleaner.bat”|
|3552c184281abcc14e3b941841b698cfb0ec9f1d||March 2022 Ukraine HeaderTip sample “httpshelper.dll”|
|ebook.port25[.]biz||September 2020 C2 Server|
|fde012fbcc65f4ab84d5f7d4799942c3f8792cc3||September 2020 file delivery archive “Joining Instructions IMPC 1.20 .rar”|
|e30a24e7367c4a82d283c7c68cff5739319aace9||September 2020 lure document “Joining Instructions IMPC 1.20 .xls”|
|5cc8ce82fc21add608277384dfaa8139efe8bea5||September 2020 HeaderTip samples based on C2 use|
|mert.my03[.]com||September 2020 C2 Server|
|90c4223887f10f8f9c4ac61f858548d154183d9a||September 2020 file delivery archive “OSCE-wide Counter-Terrorism Conference 2020.zip”|
|82f8c69a48fa1fa23ff37a0b0dc23a06a7cb6758||September 2020 lure document “OSCE-wide Counter-Terrorism Conference 2020”|
|b330cf088ba8c75d297d4b65bdbdd8bee9a8385c||September 2020 HeaderTip sample”officecleaner.dll”|
|83c4a02e2d627b40c6e58bf82197e113603c4f87||HeaderTip (Possible researcher)|
|dynamic.ddns[.]mobi||C2 Server, overlaps with Scieron (b5f2cc8e8580a44a6aefc08f9776516a)|