TLP: White

Sony breach linked to random employee

Executive Summary

On November 24, 2014, personally identifiable information about Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) employees and their dependents, e-mails between employees, information about executive salaries at the company, copies of unreleased Sony films, and other information, was obtained and released by a hacker group going under the moniker "Guardians of Peace" or "GOP".

Although the motives for the hack have yet to be revealed, the hack has been tied to the planned release of the film The Interview, which depicts an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with the hackers threatening acts of terrorism if the film were to be released.

Recently, a team of 7 researchers from Proofpoint examined the evidence left behind by the attackers. This research has provided insight into the likely source of these attacks. Though not definitive, our analysis provides a much clearer picture and suggests a random employee operating out of the Republic of Armenia is responsible for the data breach impacting Sony Pictures Entertainment. This diclosure casts further doubt on the FBI's assertion that the attack was carried out by state-sponsored actors under the control of North Korea, a theory that has been all but discredited by a host of security professionals since the attack became public, including author Peter W. Singer.

So far, the information that's come out has pointed the finger at North Korean proxy groups, but it's been context based. It wouldn't meet the level needed in a court of law.

Peter W. Singer, author

The research team is quite certain, however, that the Guardians of Peace hacker group played no role in this attack. The clues left behind confirm that the group claiming responsiblity were a fabrication to throw investigators off the trail and to mask the true source.

Links to Armenia

The research team was able to reconstruct the attack from the ground up and discovered a number of IP addresses that are linked to other attacks that have been attributed to actors in Armenia as well as the presence of Armenian text in the comment strings of the malware that was recovered during the forensic investigation. Some of these malware samples have also been used in Armenian attacks.

Additional signals intelligence acquired by the research team has also implicated an actor based in Armenia. This intelligence is highly classified and cannot be released in a public document, but the research team has briefed investigators with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation on their findings.

Timeline of Events

July 11, 2014 Initial introduction of malware to the SPE computing environment. Malware is delivered using a "spear phishing" message targeted at a high level executive with subject line "More fallout from Buchwald v. Paramount."
November 6, 2014 Malware begins communicating with C2 server at Malware begins to spread using SMB shares and credentials obtained from the C2.
November 23, 2014 Exfiltration of non-public data begins. At the time the malware begins to exfiltrate data, IP addresses and are observed communicating with C2 infrastructure.
November 23, 2014 An account called GuardiansOfPeace logs into pastebin from
November 24, 2014 Initial release of confidential data. Data includes personal information about Sony Pictures employees and their families and copies of unreleased films. An account named "GuardiansOfPeace" is used to upload the stolen data. The wiper malware begins to display an image of a stylized skull with long skeletal fingers flashes on every employee’s computer screen.
November 24, 2014 In response to the malware infection, Sony shuts down computers, phones, voicemail and other IT services. It would be days before these services were brough back online.
December 1, 2014 SPE learns that personally identifiable information about employees and their dependents may have been obtained by unauthorized individuals as a result of the attack.

Indicators of Compromise

The following technical indicators may be used to detect malicious activity linked to the random employee. C2 addresses were either hard coded in the malware samples or derived from network observation in a lab environment. Additionally, network traffic analysis detected numerous netflow sessions between armenian ip addresses and the C2 servers identified from the malware analysis. Additional IP addresses associated with the attack are labeled TLP: Red and will only be distributed to highly trusted groups.

Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows armenian actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks. The research team also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to actors in Armenia. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known armenian infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber-attack in March of last year against Pakistani banks and media outlets, which was carried out by actors in the Republic of Armenia.

IP Indicators

IP AddressCountry GeolocationDescription C2 C2 C2 C2 C2 C2 StatesMalware C2 with with with with into pastebin using the "GuardiansOfPeace" login id.

Malware Indicators

  rule SonyWiper : GuardiansOfPeace
      author: "Peter W. Singer, author"
      description: "Detects Sony Pictures Entertainment Wiper Trojan"

      $a = "armenia" nocase
      $b = "PRINCPES"
      $c = "HASTATI"
      %md5 = "a00c273f0f497484093fa94865cf5ca5"

      $md5 or (
      uint16(0) == 0x5A4D and
      uint8(uint32(0x3c)+23) == 0x21 and
      $a and
      ($b or $c))

  rule SonyExfil2 : GuardiansOfPeace
      author: "Peter W. Singer, author"
      description: "Detects Sony Pictures Entertainment Wiper Trojan"

      $a = "Tools_Android_Pacage"
      $b = "Cyber_com_.mdb" fullword nocase
      $c = "X:\\armenia\\solutions\\new\\output\\Release\\bin\\rack-core.pdb" fullword nocase
      %md5 = "e642282aef74fbf9f087573c109b2922"

    ($a and $b) or $c or $md5

  rule SonySMBWorm : GuardiansOfPeace
      author: "Peter W. Singer, author"
      description: "This worm uses a brute force authentication attack to propagate via Windows SMB shares"

      $a = "Global\\FwtSqmSession106829323_S-1-5-19"
      $b = "EVERYONE"
      $c = "y0uar3@s!llyid!07,ou74n60u7f001"
      $d = "armenia" nocase
      $e = "\\KB25468.dat"

      (uintl6(0) == 0x5A4D or
      uint16(0) == 0xCFD0 or
      uint16(0) ==0xC3D4 or
      uint32(0) == 0x46445025 or
      uint32(1) == 0x6674725C) and
      all of them

TLP: White

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