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NSA Report on Russia Spear-Phishing

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Russia/Cybersecurity: Main Intelligence Directorate Cyber Actors,   Target U. S. Companies and Local U. S. Government Officials Using Voter Registration-Themed Emails, Spoof Election-Related Products and Services, Research Absentee Ballot Email Addresses; August to November 2016 (TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA)


(U//FOUO) INTELLIGENCE PURPOSES ONLY: (U//FOUO) The information in this report for intelligence purposes only but may be used to develop potential investigative leads. No information in this report, nor any information derived therefrom, may be used in any proceedings (whether criminal or civil), to include any trial, hearing, or other proceedings before any court, department, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States without the advance approval of the Attorney General and/or the agency or department which originated the information contained in this report. These restrictions apply to any information extracted from this document and used in derivative publications or briefings.

(U//FOUO) CYBERSECURITY INFORMATION: (U//FOUO) The unclassified data in this report is protected from public disclosure by Federal Law. This report includes sensitive technical information related to computer network operations that could be used against U. S. Government information systems. Any scanning, probing, or electronic surveying of IP addresses, domains, e-mail addresses, or user names identified in this report is strictly prohibited. Information identified as UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY may be shared for cybersecurity purposes at the UNCLASSIFIED level once it is disassociated from NSA/CSS. Consult the originator prior to release of this information to any foreign government outside of the original recipients.

SUMMARY (U)

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors   executed cyber espionage operations against a named U. S. Company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on electronics-related software and hardware solutions, according to information that became available in April 2017. The actors likely used data obtained from trial operation to create a new email account and launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations. The spear-phishing emails contained a Microsoft Word document trojanized with a Visual Basic script which, when opened, would spawn a PowerShell instance and beacon out to malicious infrastructure. In October 2016, the actors also created a new e-mail address that was potentially used to offer election-related products and services, presumably to U. S.-based targets. Lastly, the actors sent test e-mails to two non-existent accounts ostensibly associated with absentee balloting, presumably with the purpose of creating those accounts to mimic legitimate services.

Campaign Against U. S. Company 1 and Voter Registration-Themed Phishing of U. S. Local Government Officials (S//SI//REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA)

Russian Cyber Threat Actors Target U. S. Company 1 (S//REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA)

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) Cyber threat actors   executed a spear-phishing campaign from the email address noreplyautomaticservice@gmail.com on 24 August 2016 targeting victims that included employees of U. S. Company 1, according to information that became available in April 2017.[1] This campaign appeared to be designed to obtain the end-users’ e-mail credentials by enticing the victims to click on an embedded link within a spoofed Google Alert e-mail, which would redirect the user to the malicious domain  .[2] The following potential victims were identified:

  • U. S. e-mail address 1 associated with U. S. Company 1,
  • U. S. e-mail address 2 associated with U. S. Company 1,
  • U. S. e-mail address 3 associated with U. S. Company 1,
  • U. S. e-mail address 4 associated with U. S. Company 1,
  • U. S. e-mail address 5 associated with U. S. Company 1,
  • U. S. e-mail address 6 associated with U. S. Company 1, and
  • U. S. e-mail address 7 associated with U. S. Company 1.

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) Three of the malicious e-mails were rejected by the e-mail server with the response message that the victim’s addresses did not exist. The three rejected e-mail addresses were U. S. e-mail addresses 1 to 3 associated with U. S. Company 1.

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY) COMMENT: The   actors were probably trying to obtain information associated with election-related hardware and software applications. It is unknown whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised all the intended victims, and what potential data from the victims could have been exfiltrated. However, based upon subsequent targeting, it was likely that at least one account was compromised.

Cyber Threat Actors Create Spoofed Account and Voter Registration-Themed Targeting of Local Government Officials (TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA)

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) The   cyber threat actors created a new operational e-mail account vr.elections@gmail.com with the username "U. S. Company 1" on 27 October 2016. (COMMENT: It is likely that the cyber threat actors created this e-mail address to appear as if they were an employee of U. S. Company 1.) The cyber threat actors has in the e-mail account two trojanized Microsoft Word documents with the titles "New_EViD_User_Guides.docm" and "NEW_Staging_Checklist_AIO_Style_EViD.docm." Both of these documents had identical content and hash values, and contained the same malicious Visual Basic script. The body of the trojanized documents contained detailed instructions on how to configure EViD software on Microsoft Windows machines. According to EViD’s FAQ Web-site (UNCLASSIFIED), EViD software allows poll workers to quickly check a voter’s registration status, name, and address. (END OF COLLATERAL)

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) Subsequently, the cyber threat actors used the vr.elections@gmail.com account to compromise U. S. e-mail address 1 to 122 associated with named local government organizations. (COMMENT: It is possible that the targeted e-mail addresses were obtained from the previously compromised account(s) of U. S. Company 1.) The "NEW_Staging_Checklist_AIO_Style_EViD" document was last modified on 31 October 2016 and the "New_EViD_User_Guides" document was last modified on 1 November 2016. (COMMENT: This likely indicates that the spear-phishing campaign occurred either on 31 October or 1 November, although the exact date of the spear-phishing campaign was not confirmed.)

(TS//SI//REL TO USA, FVEY) COMMENT: Given the content of the malicious e-mail it was likely that the threat actor was targeting officials involved in the management of voter registration systems. It is unknown whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised the intended victims, and what potential data could have been accessed by the cyber actor.

Technical Analysis of the Trojanized Documents (U//FOUO)

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) Both trojanized Microsoft Word documents contained a malicious Visual Basic script that spawns PowerShell and uses it to execute a series of commands to retrieve and then run an unknown payload from malicious infrastructure located at a U. S. IP address on port 8080, probably running Microsoft-IIS/7.5 Server. (COMMENT: The unknown very likely installs a second payload which can then be used to establish access or survey the victim for items of interest to the threat actors.) The request used a user-agent string of "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64; Trident/7.0; rv:11.0) like Gecko". Lastly, the malicious Microsoft Word documents hashed to the following values:

  • MD5 Hash: 5617e7ffa923de3a3dc9822c3b01a1fd,
  • SHA-1 Hash: 602aa899a6fadeb6f461112f3c51439a36ccba40, and
  • SHA-256 Hash: f489929f2de895425bdae2d5b232a726d66b9b2827d1a9ffc75d1ea37a7cf6c.

Operational Accounts Spoofing Legitimate Elections-Related Services (S//REL TO USA, FVEY)

Spoofing E-mail Address Associated With U. S. Company 2 (U//FOUO)

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) In parallel to the aforementioned campaign, the   cyber threat actors created another new operational e-mail account elevationsystem@outlook.com on 19 October 2016. They then used this e-mail address to send a test message to another known   operation e-mail account. In that test e-mail, which was written in the English, the threat actors spoofed U. S. Company 2, and offered election-related products and services. All e-mails associated with this account were later deleted, and it was unknown if there was any targeting using this e-mail account. (COMMENT: Given that the e-mail body was written in the English and prepared less than one month before the 2016 U. S. Presidential election, it was likely intended for U. S.-based targets.)

Spoofing Absentee Ballot E-mail Addresses (U//FOUO)

(TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) Additionally, the   cyber threat actors sent what appeared to be a test e-mail to two other accounts, requestabsentee@americansamoaelectionoffice.org and rquestabsentee@americansamoaelectionoffice.org. In both cases the actors received a response from the mail server on 18 October stating that the message failed to send, indicating that the two accounts did not exist.

(TS//SI//REL TO USA, FVEY) COMMENT: Given that the test e-mail did not contain any malicious links or attachments, it appeared that threat actor’s intent was to create the e-mail accounts rather than compromise them, presumably with the purpose of mimicking a legitimate absentee ballot-related service provider.

Spearphishing-Image

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  1. (TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) The GRU   is also rendered as military unit  
  2. (TS//SI//OC/REL TO USA, FVEY/FISA) For additional information on   and its cyber espionage mandate, specifically directed at U. S. and foreign elections, see  

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).