A cyber threat group that caused chaos in the financial sector due to coordinated heists was taken down in Kigali late last year(2019).
This group flourished for several years after the main Cyber Cartel was taken down in 2017, with the third in command assuming Operational Command, after he unsuccessfully was unable to attain a Political statue during 2017 nominations, thus quickly reverting to crime, and organizing this threat group with use of Cut-Outs across its organized crime operations, such that even the Money Mules didn’t know each other and could not have access to the hackers’ deployed to run target penetrations.
This group led by a man named Rueben also known as Ben, operationalized use of hackers from other threat groups with use of Grapzone’s leadership for the toughest targets around East Africa. With his leadership, the group started to expand to Central Africa, attempting to beat SilentCards threat-group in expansion around the area.
One of the exceptions OnNet CTI analysts noted with this group, was use of financiers who joined and injected money into the group in order to get dividends as if they were directors. Obliquely, Forkbombo group operated like a company or rather a cooperate entity.
With Forkbombo gone, OnNet collected intelligence on several groups as they broke up and mutated in 2019 than observed before in East African Cyber Threat Intelligence.
The newest group which we observed breaking out of SilentCards is called The Consultants. At the top of their target list are Government Financial Systems.
As these groups grow and mutate, resilient prevention capabilities are required to stop and evict them.
At the time writing, senior members of the Forkbombo group are still behind bars, while they still have charges in other countries around East Africa for several cyber heists conducted over the years.
Insiders that communicate and facilitate adversary groups are typically trusted male employees, which is constituted by some sense of failure in their life or need of money and lack of success which still outlines to that sense of failure.
During majority of the engagements and CNE operations, OnNet CNO team develops and collects intelligence on the insider threats involved and usually ends up identifying, a male between the ages of 28-40 years old.
The six threat actors OnNet tracks in Kenyan are Nairobi based financial groups that broke up from the primary AFT, and all five of them have the same TTPs when they approach insiders except SilentCards.
SilentCards approaches anyone with physical access to the building often involving guards and janitors and then offers them money. The insider assists them with the delivery of a rogue laptop to the institution’s building.
We have witnessed a Janitor/Cleaner photograph statements and software queries from an office late in the evening and send them to an AFT operator via social media as seen below.
The same AFTs have used a communications officer in a different instituton to get names of all Western Union tellers, their usernames and emails as seen below.
Though Forkbombo used to work well with SilentCards over a couple years, predominantly the former concentrate on the personnel with an ICT background, collecting OSINT on the subject via LinkedIn, Facebook and other Social media platforms. Then in no time, they will communicate with him, to assist with installation of RUT backdoor. We have witnessed them approach an Accountant with some ICT background as stated on his LinkedIn profile, and such malicious insider would not only aid with the backdoor installation but forward copies of email threads so that the AFTs can understand the inner working of the banks systems.
The screenshot below shows a thread that was forwarded over to the AFTs.
Several batches are usually forwarded depending on the demand.
Some emails contain balances during loan heists when the AFT needs to understand how loans are paid and the organization’s/client’s with bigger credit.
This was a big Modus Operandi for another Threat group OnNet tracks codenamed GrapZone which specialized in loan sabotage, credit manipulation and bill de-credit operations.
Computer Network Defense
With the insider threats growing and evading several security checks, a lot of institutions are under attacks everyday.
Building a framework to spy (DITU) or setting up UEBA solutions on the employees can get disastrous and expensive, rather educating them and establishing a culture of accountability can minimize such risks and inflict less harm to the organization already targeted by the AFTs.
Our CNO team that is selectively tasked with offensive operations to gather CTI, for our customers so as to arm them with the most accurate intelligence, stumbled on a server, early 2018, that was used for a larger heist late last year, where the actor made 400,000,000 + KSHs payday. Due to the fact the institution is not our client and has not directly or indirectly contacted us for approval to post this blog and the laws of Kenya do not agree we do so, we can’t name the affected institution, rather we can provide details of how such a heist occurs according to our research, observations and intel collection.
SilentsCards threat actor is a home grown AFT and is an offshoot of Forkbombo Group. They started their robberies late 2017 and have been heisting organizations with lots of millions lost for the last one year. This group inherited the old version key logger used by Forkbombo and perfected it for collection of key logger data in a targeted environment.
The latest code used in several banks, after reversing has the main Def as OnKeyBoardEvent() and the file is usually saved up as tech_kg.py.
By default, you will find these outputs in the home directory of the user who is logged, which by default happens when the users gets into their system after logging in.
The logger PE is usually copied and saved into Startup folder which is an older TTP, that ForkBombo group used back in 2015-2017 and then abandoned and started using Scheduled-tasks, Registry and Drivers for persistence.
SilentCards still saves them in startup directory as :
In short, SilentCards have not improved their operations to try defend their tactics in the long run, but there is a time, our Defenders ended up in a fire fight with SilentCards, as they tried to defend a module they used for CnC during a Breach Readiness service.
SilentCards are known to use AnyDesk for Remote Administration, they are known to use GoToMyPc since 2015, and with collaboration with PsExec, they can laterally move through the ICT Workstations deploying key logger and through the DataCenters dumping passwords and other essential access tokens with use of an open source tool called mimikatz.
Our CNO team observed as they collected Windows creds, and later targeted Card Center servers, by either looking for the server owners and collecting their SSHD credentials. By default most organizations usually have default passwords they set up for users, and on this bank they used three different default passwords.
SilentCards was also interested on the initial entry to get into a box called Polarisprapp01 and Eqc-VC01. Using these two servers, just like their sister threat actor, Forkbombo group, they started coping all Audit Reports generated by the institutions from the auditors workstations for further review of the institutions situation awareness and Risk Analysis and copied them via Eqc-VC01 an internal server, to a C2 server overseas.
After collecting as many credentials as they could, 400 Million Kenya Shillings was moved in batches, crediting fictitious accounts, then accessed either via VISA/MASTERCARD overseas or with use of Mobile Money Transfers. Unlike Forkbombo which has several money mules, SilentCards relies a lot on foreigners for quick transactions outside the country.
Outlook on SilentCards
We believe this threat actor is still active in different infrastructures and is planning to attack another institution this Easter by running huge transactions. By raising community awareness, we intend to minimize damage and loss to your customers and to ours by maiming their activities and capabilities when exploiting infrastructures across East Africa.
For the last few years OnNet teams have been responding to a wide range of attacks by Local Nairobi Advanced Financial Threats. These groups started upcoming and growing in 2016 and their trade-craft was simple and new to most banks and financial institutions. Their main focus is widespread theft of funds either through ATMs, Bill manipulation, Bank-to-Bank transfer and even Core Banking Software manipulation.
OnNet currently is Pursuing five local AFTs.
On this blog, we will post indicators, tactics, techniques and procedures used by these groups. Their history and growth to several high profile cartels and growing AFT groups.