Since mid-2021, we have been investigating a rather elusive threat actor called Earth Lusca that targets organizations globally via a campaign that uses traditional social engineering techniques such as spear phishing and watering holes. The group’s primary motivation seems to be cyberespionage: the list of its victims includes high value targets such as government and educational institutions, religious movements, pro-democracy and human rights organizations in Hong Kong, Covid-19 research organizations, and the media, among others. However, the threat actor also seems to be financially motivated, as it also took aim at gambling and cryptocurrency companies.
Previous research into the group’s activities attributed it to other threat actors such as the Winnti group due to the use of malware such as Winnti, but despite some similarities, we consider Earth Lusca a separate threat actor (we do have evidence, however, that the group is part of the “Winnti cluster,” which is comprised of different groups with the same origin country and share aspects of their TTPs).
The technical brief provides an in-depth look at Earth Lusca’s activities, the tools it employs in attacks, and the infrastructure it uses.
Earth Lusca’s infrastructure can essentially be grouped into two “clusters.” The first cluster is built using virtual private servers (VPS), rented from a service provider, that are used for the group’s watering hole and spear phishing operations, in addition to acting as a command-and-control (C&C) server for malware.
The second cluster is made up of compromised servers running old, open-source versions of Oracle GlassFish Server. Interestingly, this second cluster performs a different role in an Earth Lusca attack — it acts as a scanning tool that searches for vulnerabilities in public-facing servers and builds traffic tunnels within the target’s network. Like the first cluster, it also serves as a C&C server, this time for Cobalt Strike.
It’s possible that the group used portions of its infrastructure (particularly the scanning aspects) for diversion in order to trick security staff into focusing on the wrong parts of the network.
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