HP Threat Research Blog Aggah Campaign’s Latest Tactics: Victimology, PowerPoint Dropper and Cryptocurrency Stealer

July 1, 2020 Category: Threat Research By: Alex Holland Comments: 0

Aggah Campaign’s Latest Tactics: Victimology, PowerPoint Dropper and Cryptocurrency Stealer

A notable PowerPoint malicious spam campaign we investigated recently was detected by HP Sure Click in May 2020. Its tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) suggest that the activity is linked to threat actors behind a string of similar campaigns, known collectively as the Aggah campaign.  In this campaign, malicious PowerPoint Add-in files were used to deliver Agent Tesla and PowerShell cryptocurrency-stealing malware.

The use of PowerPoint malware is significant because it’s uncommon. Of the office document malware isolated by HP Sure Click in 2020 so far, only 1% was PowerPoint malware (Figure 1). Most (65%) of the office document malware seen in the wild uses Microsoft Word file formats, such as DOC, DOCX and DOCM, followed by Excel formats.

Although aspects of the May 2020 Aggah campaign have been analysed elsewhere, information about the attacker’s email infrastructure and campaign victimology is difficult to find. HP Sure Click telemetry suggests that the sectors and countries targeted by the threat actor behind this latest campaign are broader than previously thought. We also analysed the differences from previous Aggah campaigns. The most significant alterations found were the use of a PowerPoint-based dropper instead of Word- or Excel-based droppers, and the new inclusion of a PowerShell Bitcoin stealer.

Figure 1 – Proportion of office document threats by type, based on HP Sure Click telemetry.

Targeting and Victimology

HP Sure Click isolated PowerPoint presentations tied to the May 2020 Aggah campaign that were named according to the regular expressions below. All the files shared the same hash value (SHA-256 7eafb57e7fc301fabb0ce3b98092860aaac47b7118804bb8d84ddb89b9ee38f3).

  • Moglix Purchase Order \d{6}\.(pps|ppt)
  • PO – \d{6}\.(pps|ppt)
  • Bank details\.ppt
  • Payment Details\.pps
  • New order GLT srl_\d{7}_\d{2}\.\d{2}.\d{4}\.ppt
  • Scan emco Bautechni specifications\.pps

Figure 2 – Some of the detected samples shown in HP Sure Controller.

An analysis of the organisations that were targeted by the campaign shows that the targets belonged to six sectors, the most common being manufacturing. From HP Sure Click telemetry, the targets were located in eight countries, predominantly in Europe (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Observed Aggah campaign infrastructure and targets in May 2020.

To make the phishing emails look more legitimate, the attacker spoofed the domains of five business-to-business (B2B) companies in the same or a related industry as the targets. The industries and locations of the spoofed organisations indicate that the attacker likely sought to target businesses instead of individuals across many sectors. The organisations that were impersonated are based in the following countries, indicating a large geographic spread:

  • France
  • Germany
  • United Arab Emirates
  • India

Some of the recipient mail servers reported that the emails failed Sender Policy Framework (SPF) validation, meaning they detected that the sender domains in the Return-Path field were spoofed. However, in several cases the emails were still delivered to employees’ mailboxes, which suggests that some of the target organisations had not implemented a policy of rejecting mail if it failed an SPF check. We observed emails being sent from the following mail servers:

  • hwsrv-721609.hostwindsdns[.]com (192.119.91[.]236)
  • hwsrv-722288.hostwindsdns[.]com (192.119.106[.]136)
  • 172.241.27[.]218
  • 172.93.201[.]103
  • 172.93.201[.]113
PowerPoint Dropper – Using Errors to Run Malware

The dropper used in this campaign was noteworthy because its execution relied on intentionally triggering a PowerPoint application error when the presentation was opened. The error caused PowerPoint to close the presentation, generating an Auto_Close event that was used to run a malicious Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macro.

To achieve this, the dropper was implemented as a PowerPoint 97-2003 Add-in (.PPA) that had been renamed to use .PPS (PowerPoint 97-2003 Slide Show) or .PPT (PowerPoint 97-2003 Presentation) file extensions. The advantage of using the PPA format is that unlike other PowerPoint formats, Auto_Open and Auto_Close VBA subroutines are available, meaning an attacker can trigger the execution of a malicious macro when a user opens or closes the presentation.

In this case, when the presentation is closed, a subroutine called “Page” is executed (Figure 4).

Figure 4 – Auto_Close and “Page” subroutines.

When opened, PowerPoint raises an error saying that the file cannot be read (Figure 5). Clicking the OK or Close button closes the presentation, causing the macro to run in the background before closing PowerPoint. Using this error as a way of running the macro was likely intended by the attacker because the presentation does not contain any decoy content.

Figure 5 – Error raised by PowerPoint when opening the dropper.

The VBA code used to download the next stage of malware is implemented in the “Page” subroutine (Figure 6). The subroutine is minimally obfuscated and does not contain any sandbox detection. When run, it creates a WScript.Shell object and then uses the Run method to execute a remotely hosted VBScript loader using Mshta (T1170). Mshta is a Microsoft utility that is used to run HTML Applications and interpreted languages such as VBScript and JScript. The VBScript was hosted on Pastebin (hxxps://pastebin[.]com/raw/Bnv7ruYp) and accessed via a URL redirect (hxxp://j[.]mp/dmdmcrcrcryctcgufyguhmd) that was created using the j[.]mp URL shortening service.

Figure 6 – “Page” subroutine that uses Mshta to run VBScript hosted on Pastebin.

Cryptocurrency Stealer – BitcoinClipboardMalware

A new addition to the Aggah campaign is the inclusion of a cryptocurrency stealer. This is implemented in a PowerShell script that is downloaded and run after the target computer has been compromised (Figure 7).  The script monitors the victim’s clipboard for Bitcoin addresses and replaces them with the attacker’s address in the hope that the victim inadvertently transfers Bitcoin to the attacker. The script was possibly copied from a deleted GitHub project called BitcoinClipboardMalware, which matches the script used in the campaign (Figure 7). In this case, attacker’s address was 19kCcdbttTAX1mLU3Hk9S2BW5cKLFD1z1W.

Figure 7 – Deobfuscated Bitcoin stealer PowerShell script.

On 18 May, 0.00311321 Bitcoin was transferred into the attacker’s address, possibly from a victim. Fortunately, the amount transferred was small, worth approximately $28 USD. Since Bitcoin transactions are public, it is possible to trace this transaction back to a cryptocurrency exchange. On 16 June, the balance in the attacker’s wallet transferred to another Bitcoin address (1PGRpP14sSBER6x2choH31wkML1hXqykNj), likely an intermediary wallet (Figure 8).

Figure 8 – Transfer of the Bitcoin from the attacker’s wallet to an intermediary address.

On 17 June, the balance was transferred to a Bitcoin address associated with Binance (1NDyJtNTjmwk5xPNhjgAMu4HDHigtobu1s), a cryptocurrency exchange that allows users to buy and sell cryptocurrencies (Figure 9).

Figure 9 – Transaction showing a transfer of Bitcoin to an address associated with Binance.

Conclusion

Since first being documented in 2019, Aggah has undergone several changes while still maintaining some consistent TTPs, such as a preference for hosting scripts and payloads on Pastebin, obfuscating URLs using URL shortening services, and using Mshta.exe for code execution. The move to a PowerPoint dropper and the inclusion of a Bitcoin stealer is another evolution of Aggah. In this latest campaign, the attacker chose to impersonate B2B companies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia which suggests they did not intend to compromise organisations in a specific region. The sectors and locations of the victims also indicates that the attacker sought to compromise businesses in a variety of industries from manufacturing to agriculture.

Indicators of Compromise
Indicator SHA-256 Hash Purpose
PowerPoint attachment (PPS and PPT file extensions) 7eafb57e7fc301fabb0ce3b98092860aaac47b7118804bb8d84ddb89b9ee38f3 Dropper
hxxp://j[.]mp/dmdmcrcrcryctcgufyguhmd URL redirect leading to VBScript loader
hxxps://pastebin[.]com/raw/Bnv7ruYp VBScript loader
19kCcdbttTAX1mLU3Hk9S2BW5cKLFD1z1W   Aggah Bitcoin address
hwsrv-721609.hostwindsdns[.]com (192.119.91[.]236)   Aggah mail server
hwsrv-722288.hostwindsdns[.]com (192.119.106[.]136)   Aggah mail server
172.241.27[.]218   Aggah mail server
172.93.201[.]103   Aggah mail server
172.93.201[.]113   Aggah mail server
2021-05-12T04:21:13-07:00July 1st, 2020|Threat Research|

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