ltechnologygroup.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
A wide variety of threat actors began distributing HawkEye malware
through high-volume email campaigns after it became available for
purchase via a public-facing website. The actors behind the phishing
campaigns typically used email themes based on current events and
media reports that would pique user interests, with the “Subject” line
typically containing something about recent news. Although HawkEye
malware has several different capabilities, it is most often
associated with credential theft.
In the middle of June, we observed a phishing campaign involving the
distribution HawkEye malware. The threat actors behind this campaign
are not targeting any specific group of industries or any specific region.
Infection Vector & Execution
Figure 1 shows a sample phishing email used by HawkEye operators in
this latest campaign. The message is designed to entice recipients to
open the attachment. In this most recent campaign, the phishing email
contained a DOCX attachment, and the attackers named the document
appropriately so the recipient believed it involved a recent
transaction or invoice.
Figure 1: Sample phishing email
As seen in Figure 2, the deployment of the malware has several
stages of execution, including the following:
- Phishing email containing a malicious DOCX file received by
- DOCX file uses an OLE object, which contains an
embedded Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL) executable. The MSIL
file, or HawkEye malware, is dropped into the %temp% folder. The
malware has an encrypted resource section, which contains additional
payloads such as a password extraction tool and a decoy PDF
- On execution, HawkEye drops copies itself to the
%AppData% folder with a random file name.
- The decoy PDF
file is launched from the %temp% location.
- An XML file is
created in the %temp% folder with a random file name. This XML file
contains configuration details for scheduling a Windows task to
execute during the user login process.
- For the sample
analyzed, the malware is injected into VBC.exe (a Visual Basic
Command Line Compiler). The injected code has data stealing
capabilities and is designed to extract passwords from email clients
and web browsers.
Figure 2: Infection Vector and Execution
Initial Payload: DOCX File
In the observed campaign, the actors used an embedded OLE object to
deliver the payload to the victim’s machine. The malicious payload,
HawkEye, is embedded in the DOCX file and dropped in the %temp% folder
after the victim double-clicks on the object (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Embedded OLE Object
The HawkEye malware is primarily used for credential theft and is
often combined with additional tools to extract passwords from email
and web browser applications. These additional tools are contained in
an encrypted resource section of the binary.
The HawkEye malware is capable of the following:
- Email password stealing
- Web browser password
- Keylogging and taking screenshots
- USB propagation
- Internet download
- JDownloader password stealing
- Anti-virus checking
- Firewall checking
After initial checks and system enumeration, HawkEye sends the
following data to the command and control (C2) server:
- Server Name
- Keylogger Enabled
- Clipboard-Logger Enabled
- Stealers Enabled
- Local Date and Time
- Installed Language
- Operating System
- Internal IP Address
- Installed Anti-Virus
USB Propagation and Bitcoin Wallet Theft
Along with its ability to steal sensitive information, HawkEye is
capable of spreading through USB or removeable drives and can also
steal Bitcoin wallets, as seen in Figure 4.
Figure 4 : USB spreading and Bitcoin Stealing
Encrypted Resource Section
The HawkEye malware in this campaign contained encrypted resources
sections, which add functionality that enables the attackers to
exfiltrate more data. FireEye observed the same pattern in previous
HawkEye campaigns. The encrypted data is decrypted at run time and
then injected in to the target process, vbc.exe. The encryption logic
used is a custom algorithm and varies with the campaign. Figure 5
shows an example of the custom encryption algorithm.
Figure 5: Custom decryption routine
After decrypting the resource section, the following files can be extracted:
- Decoy pdf file.
- Contains configuration data for a Windows task creation
Figure 6: Components of malware
Task Scheduler – Persistence Mechanism
The payload uses the Windows task scheduling feature for its
persistance mechanism on the victim’s computer. It schedules a task to
execute on user login. The configuration data shown in Figure 7 is
used to schedule the task.
Figure 7: Task Scheduler.xml
CMemoryExecute.dll is responsible for running a .NET executable
capable of using the Windows Native API to inject MailPV.exe and
WebBrowserPassView.dll into VBC.exe, which the Visual Basic Command
Line Compiler. MailPV and WebBrowserPassView are used in order to
extract credentials from the list of email and web browser clients
noted in the following section.
WebBrowserPassView.dll, extracted from the resource section, is a
password recovery tool that extracts passwords stored in the following
- Internet Explorer (Version 4.0 – 11.0)
Firefox (All Versions)
- Google Chrome
The extracted passwords are stored in a created text file: “%temp%holderwb.txt”
The MailPV.exe file is password recovery tool that extracts password
for following email clients:
- Outlook Express
- Group Mail Free
- MS Outlook
- MS Outlook
- Yahoo! Mail
- Netscape Mail
- Google Desktop
- Windows Mail
- Windows Live
- Outlook 2013
The extracted passwords are stored in a created text file: “%temp%holdermail.txt”
Command and Control Communications
The first C2 traffic observed is the malware’s check to get the
external IP address of the infected machine. Figure 8 shows an example
of the external IP address query.
Figure 8 : External IP Address Query
As noted, the malware sends gathered system information and security
program data to the C2 server after the external IP address is known.
HawkEye can be configured to send this information through multiple
methods, including via email or FTP.
In addition to the system data, the malware will upload any
collected credentials from email and web browser applications. To do
this, the malware will validate that holdermail.txt and holderweb.txt
exist and send the data to the C2 server. After the data is
exfiltrated, the TXT files are deleted from the victim’s machine.
In this campaign, the HawkEye payload was configured to upload the
data via email. Once the extracted data is received by the C2 server,
the server sends emails to the threat actors behind the campaign to
notify them that new stolen information is available. Figure 9 shows
some of the email templates used in this campaign and Figure 10 shows
the SMTP traffic on the network.
Figure 9: Email notification to HawkEye Customers
Figure 10: SMTP Handshake
HawkEye User Base
HawkEye is a versatile Trojan used by diverse actors for multiple
purposes. The malware has been sold through a public-facing website,
which has allowed many different operators to use it. As is often the
case with commercial Trojans, HawkEye offers a variety of functions
for stealing stored data, grabbing form data, self-spreading, and
performing other functions. Consequently, HawkEye may facilitate a
number of different exploitative operations in compromised
environments, and can be used by actors with a wide range of
motivations. We have seen different HawkEye campaigns infecting
organizations across many sectors globally, and stealing user
credentials for diverse online services. This particular campaign
represents one segment of the numerous HawkEye activity sets.
Some notable threat operations where we have previously reported
HawkEye use include business email compromise campaigns, phishing
against Middle Eastern organizations, and prolific spam operations
(get an iSIGHT
intelligence subscription to learn more about these campaigns).
Based on previous observations, the phishing and lure techniques
used in these recent HawkEye campaigns have remained consistent, as
have the HawkEye binaries and associated payloads. However, the
attackers have altered the initial delivery method to use an embedded
OLE object, as opposed to past methods such as a macro embedded in a
Word document. The threat landscape is continiously evolving, and we
expect to see more new tricks and tactics being used by the actors
using this malware family.
FireEye Multi Vector Execution
(MVX) engine is able to recognize and block this threat.
Special thanks to John Miller and Nart Villeneuve for their
contributions to this blog.
At L Technology Group, we know technology alone will not protect us from the risks associated with in cyberspace. Hackers, Nation States like Russia and China along with “Bob” in HR opening that email, are all real threats to your organization. Defending against these threats requires a new strategy that incorporates not only technology, but also intelligent personnel who, eats and breaths cybersecurity. Together with proven processes and techniques combines for an advanced next-generation security solution. Since 2008 L Technology Group has develop people, processes and technology to combat the ever changing threat landscape that businesses face day to day.
Call Toll Free (855) 999-6425 for a FREE Consultation from L Technology Group, https://www.ltechnologygroup.com.