April 16, 2024

Similarities with newly found Linux malware utilized in Operation DreamJob corroborate the idea that the notorious North Korea-aligned group is behind the 3CX supply-chain assault

ESET researchers have found a brand new Lazarus Operation DreamJob marketing campaign concentrating on Linux customers. Operation DreamJob is the title for a sequence of campaigns the place the group makes use of social engineering strategies to compromise its targets, with pretend job provides because the lure. On this case, we have been in a position to reconstruct the total chain, from the ZIP file that delivers a pretend HSBC job supply as a decoy, up till the ultimate payload: the SimplexTea Linux backdoor distributed by an OpenDrive cloud storage account. To our data, that is the primary public point out of this main North Korea-aligned risk actor utilizing Linux malware as a part of this operation.

Moreover, this discovery helped us affirm with a excessive degree of confidence that the current 3CX supply-chain assault was in actual fact performed by Lazarus – a hyperlink that was suspected from the very starting and demonstrated by a number of safety researchers since. On this blogpost, we corroborate these findings and supply extra proof in regards to the connection between Lazarus and the 3CX supply-chain assault.

The 3CX supply-chain assault

3CX is a global VoIP software program developer and distributor that gives telephone system providers to many organizations. Based on its web site, 3CX has greater than 600,000 prospects and 12,000,000 customers in numerous sectors together with aerospace, healthcare, and hospitality. It gives shopper software program to make use of its programs by way of an internet browser, cellular app, or a desktop software. Late in March 2023, it was found that the desktop software for each Home windows and macOS contained malicious code that enabled a gaggle of attackers to obtain and run arbitrary code on all machines the place the applying was put in. Quickly, it was decided that this malicious code was not one thing that 3CX added themselves, however that 3CX was compromised and that its software program was utilized in a supply-chain assault pushed by exterior risk actors to distribute extra malware to particular 3CX prospects.

This cyber-incident has made headlines in current days. Initially reported on March 29th, 2023 in a Reddit thread by a CrowdStrike engineer, adopted by an official report by CrowdStrike, stating with excessive confidence that LABIRINTH CHOLLIMA, the corporate’s codename for Lazarus, was behind the assault (however omitting any proof backing up the declare). Due to the seriousness of the incident, a number of safety firms began to contribute their summaries of the occasions, particularly Sophos, Check Point, Broadcom, Trend Micro, and extra.

Additional, the a part of the assault affecting programs operating macOS was coated intimately in a Twitter thread and a blogpost by Patrick Wardle.

Timeline of occasions

Determine 1. Timeline of occasions associated to the preparation and distribution of 3CX trojanized functions

The timeline exhibits that the perpetrators had deliberate the assaults lengthy earlier than execution; as early as December 2022. This means they already had a foothold inside 3CX’s community late final yr.

Whereas the trojanized 3CX macOS software exhibits it was signed in late January, we didn’t see the dangerous software in our telemetry till February 14th, 2023. It’s unclear whether or not the malicious replace for macOS was distributed previous to that date.

Though ESET telemetry exhibits the existence of the macOS second-stage payload as early as February, we didn’t have the pattern itself, nor metadata to tip us off about its maliciousness. We embrace this data to assist defenders decide how far again programs might need been compromised.

A number of days earlier than the assault was publicly revealed, a mysterious Linux downloader was submitted to VirusTotal. It downloads a brand new Lazarus malicious payload for Linux and we clarify its relationship to the assault later within the textual content.

Attribution of the 3CX supply-chain assault to Lazarus

What’s already revealed

There may be one area that performs a big position in our attribution reasoning: journalide[.]org. It’s talked about in a number of the vendor stories linked above, however its presence is rarely defined. Curiously, articles by SentinelOne and ObjectiveSee don’t point out this area. Neither does a blogpost by Volexity, which even kept away from offering attribution, stating “Volexity can not presently map the disclosed exercise to any risk actor”. Its analysts have been among the many first to research the assault in depth and so they created a software to extract an inventory of C&C servers from encrypted icons on GitHub. This software is beneficial, because the attackers didn’t embed the C&C servers instantly within the intermediate levels, however somewhat used GitHub as a useless drop resolver. The intermediate levels are downloaders for Home windows and macOS that we denote as IconicLoaders, and the payloads they get as IconicStealer and UpdateAgent, respectively.

On March 30th, Joe Desimone, a safety researcher from Elastic Security, was among the many first to offer, in a Twitter thread, substantial clues that the 3CX-driven compromises are in all probability linked to Lazarus. He noticed {that a} shellcode stub prepended to the payload from d3dcompiler_47.dll is much like AppleJeus loader stubs attributed to Lazarus by CISA again in April 2021.

On March 31st it was being reported that 3CX had retained Mandiant to offer incident response providers regarding the supply-chain assault.

On April 3rd, Kaspersky, by its telemetry, confirmed a direct relationship between the 3CX supply-chain victims and the deployment of a backdoor dubbed Gopuram, each involving payloads with a standard title, guard64.dll. Kaspersky knowledge exhibits that Gopuram is related to Lazarus as a result of it coexisted on sufferer machines alongside AppleJeus, malware that was already attributed to Lazarus. Each Gopuram and AppleJeus have been noticed in assaults towards a cryptocurrency firm.

Then, on April 11th, the CISO of 3CX summarized Mandiant’s interim findings in a blogpost. Based on that report, two Home windows malware samples, a shellcode loader known as TAXHAUL and a posh downloader named COLDCAT, have been concerned within the compromise of 3CX. No hashes have been offered, however Mandiant’s YARA rule, named TAXHAUL, additionally triggers on different samples already on VirusTotal:

  • SHA-1: 2ACC6F1D4656978F4D503929B8C804530D7E7CF6 (ualapi.dll),
  • SHA-1: DCEF83D8EE080B54DC54759C59F955E73D67AA65 (wlbsctrl.dll)

The filenames, however not MD5s, of those samples coincide with these from Kaspersky’s blogpost. Nonetheless, 3CX explicitly states that COLDCAT differs from Gopuram.

The following part comprises a technical description of the brand new Lazarus malicious Linux payload we lately analyzed, in addition to the way it helped us strengthen the prevailing hyperlink between Lazarus and the 3CX compromise.

Operation DreamJob with a Linux payload

The Lazarus group’s Operation DreamJob includes approaching targets by LinkedIn and tempting them with job provides from trade leaders. The title was coined by ClearSky in a paper revealed in August 2020. That paper describes a Lazarus cyberespionage marketing campaign concentrating on protection and aerospace firms. The exercise has overlap with what we name Operation In(ter)ception, a sequence of cyberespionage assaults which were ongoing since at the least September 2019. It targets aerospace, navy, and protection firms and makes use of particular malicious, initially Home windows-only, instruments. Throughout July and August 2022, we discovered two cases of Operation In(ter)ception concentrating on macOS. One malware pattern was submitted to VirusTotal from Brazil, and one other assault focused an ESET person in Argentina. A number of weeks in the past, a local Linux payload was discovered on VirusTotal with an HSBC-themed PDF lure. This completes Lazarus’s potential to focus on all main desktop working programs.

On March 20th, a person within the nation of Georgia submitted to VirusTotal a ZIP archive known as HSBC job supply.pdf.zip. Given different DreamJob campaigns by Lazarus, this payload was in all probability distributed by spearphishing or direct messages on LinkedIn. The archive comprises a single file: a local 64-bit Intel Linux binary written in Go and named HSBC job supply․pdf.

Curiously, the file extension just isn’t .pdf. It’s because the obvious dot character within the filename is a leader dot represented by the U+2024 Unicode character. The usage of the chief dot within the filename was in all probability an try and trick the file supervisor into treating the file as an executable as an alternative of a PDF. This might trigger the file to run when double-clicked as an alternative of opening it with a PDF viewer. On execution, a decoy PDF is exhibited to the person utilizing xdg-open, which is able to open the doc utilizing the person’s most well-liked PDF viewer (see Determine 3). We determined to name this ELF downloader OdicLoader, because it has the same position because the IconicLoaders on different platforms and the payload is fetched from OpenDrive.

OdicLoader drops a decoy PDF doc, shows it utilizing the system’s default PDF viewer (see Determine 2), after which downloads a second-stage backdoor from the OpenDrive cloud service. The downloaded file is saved in ~/.config/guiconfigd (SHA-1: 0CA1723AFE261CD85B05C9EF424FC50290DCE7DF). We name this second-stage backdoor SimplexTea.

Because the final step of its execution, the OdicLoader modifies ~/.bash_profile, so SimplexTea is launched with Bash and its output is muted (~/.config/guiconfigd >/dev/null 2>&1).

Determine 2. Illustration of the possible chain of compromise

Determine 3. An HSBC-themed lure within the Linux DreamJob marketing campaign

SimplexTea is a Linux backdoor written in C++. As highlighted in Desk 1, its class names are similar to operate names present in a pattern, with filename sysnetd, submitted to VirusTotal from Romania (SHA-1: F6760FB1F8B019AF2304EA6410001B63A1809F1D). Due to the similarities in school names and performance names between SimplexTea and sysnetd, we imagine SimplexTea is an up to date model, rewritten from C to C++.

Desk 1. Comparability of the unique image names from two Linux backdoors submitted to VirusTotal

(SimplexTea for Linux, from Georgia)

(BADCALL for Linux, from Romania)

CMsgCmd::Begin(void) MSG_Cmd
CMsgSafeDel::Begin(void) MSG_Del
CMsgDir::Begin(void) MSG_Dir
CMsgDown::Begin(void) MSG_Down
CMsgExit::Begin(void) MSG_Exit
CMsgReadConfig::Begin(void) MSG_ReadConfig
CMsgRun::Begin(void) MSG_Run
CMsgSetPath::Begin(void) MSG_SetPath
CMsgSleep::Begin(void) MSG_Sleep
CMsgTest::Begin(void) MSG_Test
CMsgUp::Begin(void) MSG_Up
CMsgWriteConfig::Begin(void) MSG_WriteConfig
CMsgZip::StartZip(void *)
CHttpWrapper::RecvData(uchar *&,uint *,uint,signed char)
CHttpWrapper::SendMsg(_MSG_STRUCT *) SendMsg
CHttpWrapper::SendData(uchar *,uint,uint)
CHttpWrapper::SendMsg(uint,uint,uchar *,uint,uint)
CHttpWrapper::SendLoginData(uchar *,uint,uchar *&,uint *)

How is sysnetd associated to Lazarus? The next part exhibits similarities with Lazarus’s Home windows backdoor known as BADCALL.

BADCALL for Linux

We attribute sysnetd to Lazarus due to its similarities with the next two recordsdata (and we imagine that sysnetd is a Linux variant of the group’s backdoor for Home windows known as BADCALL):

  • P2P_DLL.dll (SHA-1: 65122E5129FC74D6B5EBAFCC3376ABAE0145BC14), which exhibits code similarities to sysnetd within the type of domains used as a entrance for pretend TLS connection (see Determine 4). It was attributed to Lazarus by CISA in December 2017. From September 2019, CISA began to name newer variations of this malware BADCALL (SHA-1: D288766FA268BC2534F85FD06A5D52264E646C47).

Determine 4. Similarities between a Home windows and a Linux variant of BADCALL (an inventory of domains used as a entrance for a pretend TLS connection)

  • prtspool (SHA-1: 58B0516D28BD7218B1908FB266B8FE7582E22A5F), which exhibits code similarities to sysnetd (see Determine 5). It was attributed to Lazarus by CISA in February 2021. Observe as effectively that SIMPLESEA, a macOS backdoor discovered through the 3CX incident response, implements the A5/1 stream cipher.

Determine 5. Similarities between AppleJeus for macOS and the Linux variant of BADCALL (the important thing for the A5/1 stream cipher)

This Linux model of the BADCALL backdoor, sysnetd, masses its configuration from a file named /tmp/vgauthsvclog. Since Lazarus operators have beforehand disguised their payloads, using this title, which is utilized by the VMware Visitor Authentication service, means that the focused system could also be a Linux VMware digital machine. Curiously, the XOR key on this case is similar as one utilized in SIMPLESEA from the 3CX investigation.

Determine 6. Loading a configuration file by BADCALL for Linux, cf. Determine 8

Looking on the three 32-bit integers, 0xC2B45678, 0x90ABCDEF, and 0xFE268455 from Determine 5, which symbolize a key for a customized implementation of the A5/1 cipher, we realized that the identical algorithm and the equivalent keys have been utilized in Home windows malware that dates again to the tip of 2014 and was concerned in one of the vital infamous Lazarus instances: the cybersabotage of Sony Photos Leisure (SHA-1: 1C66E67A8531E3FF1C64AE57E6EDFDE7BEF2352D).

Determine 7. The decryption routine shared between the BADCALL for Linux and focused damaging malware for Home windows from 2014

Extra attribution knowledge factors

To recap what we’ve coated up to now, we attribute the 3CX supply-chain assault to the Lazarus group with a excessive degree of confidence. That is primarily based on the next components:

  1. Malware (the intrusion set):
    1. The IconicLoader (samcli.dll) makes use of the identical kind of sturdy encryption – AES-GCM – as SimplexTea (whose attribution to Lazarus was established by way of the similarity with BALLCALL for Linux); solely the keys and initialization vectors differ.
    2. Primarily based on the PE Wealthy Headers, each IconicLoader (samcli.dll) and IconicStealer (sechost.dll) are tasks of the same dimension and compiled in the identical Visible Studio setting because the executables iertutil.dll (SHA-1: 5B03294B72C0CAA5FB20E7817002C600645EB475) and iertutil.dll (SHA-1: 7491BD61ED15298CE5EE5FFD01C8C82A2CDB40EC) reported within the Lazarus cryptocurrency campaigns by Volexity and Microsoft. We embrace under the YARA rule RichHeaders_Lazarus_NukeSped_IconicPayloads_3CX_Q12023, which flags all these samples, and no unrelated malicious or clear recordsdata, as examined on the present ESET databases and up to date VirusTotal submissions.
    3. SimplexTea payload masses its configuration in a really comparable approach to the SIMPLESEA malware from the 3CX official incident response. The XOR key differs (0x5E vs. 0x7E), however the configuration bears the identical title: apdl.cf (see Determine 8).

Determine 8. Loading a configuration file by SimplexTea for Linux, cf. Determine 6

  1. Infrastructure:
    1. There may be shared community infrastructure with SimplexTea, because it makes use of https://journalide[.]org/djour.php because it C&C, whose area is reported within the official results of the incident response of the 3CX compromise by Mandiant.

Determine 9. A hardcoded URL in SimplexTea for Linux


The 3CX compromise has gained lots of consideration from the safety group since its disclosure on March 29th. This compromised software program, deployed on numerous IT infrastructures, which permits the obtain and execution of any type of payload, can have devastating impacts. Sadly, no software program writer is proof against being compromised and inadvertently distributing trojanized variations of their functions.

The stealthiness of a supply-chain assault makes this methodology of distributing malware very interesting from an attacker’s perspective. Lazarus has already used this method prior to now, concentrating on South Korean customers of WIZVERA VeraPort software program in 2020. Similarities with current malware from the Lazarus toolset and with the group’s typical strategies strongly recommend the current 3CX compromise is the work of Lazarus as effectively.

It is usually fascinating to notice that Lazarus can produce and use malware for all main desktop working programs: Home windows, macOS, and Linux. Each Home windows and macOS programs have been focused through the 3CX incident, with 3CX’s VoIP software program for each working programs being trojanized to incorporate malicious code to fetch arbitrary payloads. Within the case of 3CX, each Home windows and macOS second-stage malware variations exist. This text demonstrates the existence of a Linux backdoor that in all probability corresponds to the SIMPLESEA macOS malware seen within the 3CX incident. We named this Linux part SimplexTea and confirmed that it’s a part of Operation DreamJob, Lazarus’s flagship marketing campaign utilizing job provides to lure and compromise unsuspecting victims.

For any inquiries about our analysis revealed on WeLiveSecurity, please contact us at [email protected].

ESET Analysis provides non-public APT intelligence stories and knowledge feeds. For any inquiries about this service, go to the ESET Threat Intelligence web page.



SHA-1 Filename ESET detection title Description
0CA1723AFE261CD85B05C9EF424FC50290DCE7DF guiconfigd Linux/NukeSped.E SimplexTea for Linux.
3A63477A078CE10E53DFB5639E35D74F93CEFA81 HSBC_job_offer․pdf Linux/NukeSped.E OdicLoader, a 64-bit downloader for Linux, written in Go.
9D8BADE2030C93D0A010AA57B90915EB7D99EC82 HSBC_job_offer.pdf.zip Linux/NukeSped.E A ZIP archive with a Linux payload, from VirusTotal.
F6760FB1F8B019AF2304EA6410001B63A1809F1D sysnetd Linux/NukeSped.G BADCALL for Linux.


IP deal with Area Internet hosting supplier First seen Particulars
23.254.211[.]230 N/A Hostwinds LLC. N/A C&C server for BADCALL for Linux
od[.]lk Cogent Communications 2023-03-16 Distant OpenDrive storage containing SimplexTea (/d/NTJfMzg4MDE1NzJf/vxmedia)
172.93.201[.]88 journalide[.]org Nexeon Applied sciences, Inc. 2023-03-29 C&C server for SimplexTea (/djour.php)

MITRE ATT&CK strategies

Tactic ID Title Description
Reconnaissance T1593.001 Search Open Web sites/Domains: Social Media Lazarus attackers in all probability approached a goal with a pretend HSBC-themed job supply that will match the goal’s curiosity. This has been achieved principally by way of LinkedIn prior to now.
Useful resource Improvement T1584.001 Purchase Infrastructure: Domains In contrast to many earlier instances of compromised C&Cs utilized in Operation DreamJob, Lazarus operators registered their very own area for the Linux goal.
T1587.001 Develop Capabilities: Malware Customized instruments from the assault are very seemingly developed by the attackers.
T1585.003 Set up Accounts: Cloud Accounts The attackers hosted the ultimate stage on the cloud service OpenDrive.
T1608.001 Stage Capabilities: Add Malware The attackers hosted the ultimate stage on the cloud service OpenDrive.
Execution T1204.002 Person Execution: Malicious File OdicLoader masquerades as a PDF file with a purpose to idiot the goal.
Preliminary Entry T1566.002 Phishing: Spearphishing Hyperlink The goal seemingly acquired a hyperlink to third-party distant storage with a malicious ZIP archive, which was later submitted to VirusTotal.
Persistence T1546.004 Occasion Triggered Execution: Unix Shell Configuration Modification OdicLoader modifies the sufferer’s Bash profile, so SimplexTea is launched every time Bash is stared and its output is muted.
Protection Evasion T1134.002 Entry Token Manipulation: Create Course of with Token SimplexTea can create a brand new course of, if instructed by its C&C server.
T1140 Deobfuscate/Decode Recordsdata or Info SimplexTea shops its configuration in an encrypted apdl.cf.
T1027.009 Obfuscated Recordsdata or Info: Embedded Payloads The droppers of all malicious chains include an embedded knowledge array with a further stage.
T1562.003 Impair Defenses: Impair Command Historical past Logging OdicLoader modifies the sufferer’s Bash profile, so the output and error messages from SimplexTea are muted. SimplexTea executes new processes with the identical approach.
T1070.004 Indicator Elimination: File Deletion SimplexTea has the power to delete recordsdata securely.
T1497.003 Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion: Time Primarily based Evasion SimplexTea implements a number of customized sleep delays in its execution.
Discovery T1083 File and Listing Discovery SimplexTea can record the listing content material along with their names, sizes, and timestamps (mimicking the ls -la command).
Command and Management T1071.001 Utility Layer Protocol: Net Protocols SimplexTea can use HTTP and HTTPS for communication with its C&C server, utilizing a statically linked Curl library.
T1573.001 Encrypted Channel: Symmetric Cryptography SimplexTea encrypts C&C visitors utilizing the AES-GCM algorithm.
T1132.001 Knowledge Encoding: Customary Encoding SimplexTea encodes C&C visitors utilizing base64.
T1090 Proxy SimplexTea can make the most of a proxy for communications.
Exfiltration T1041 Exfiltration Over C2 Channel SimplexTea can exfiltrate knowledge as ZIP archives to its C&C server.


This YARA rule flags the cluster containing each IconicLoader and IconicStealer, in addition to the payloads deployed within the cryptocurrency campaigns from December 2022.