TLP: White

Sony breach linked to regular end-user within Sony

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 6 researchers from Microsoft, Mandiant/FireEye, Cyphort, iDefense, Arbor Networks, and Secunia 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 regular end-user within Sony operating out of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 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 East-Asia regional subject-matter-expert Georgetta Gaertner.

DPRK is much more interested in damaging assets in South Korea than going after a movie studio in the United States.

Georgetta Gaertner, East-Asia regional subject-matter-expert

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 Pakistan

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 Pakistan as well as the presence of Pakistani 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 Pakistani attacks.

Additional signals intelligence acquired by the research team has also implicated an actor based in Pakistan. 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

DateDescription
March 3, 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 "10 things your film director DOES NOT want you to know!"
November 7, 2014 Malware begins communicating with C2 server at 208.105.226.235. Malware begins to spread using SMB shares and credentials obtained from the C2.
November 16, 2014 Exfiltration of non-public data begins. At the time the malware begins to exfiltrate data, IP addresses 202.165.235.114 and 202.165.246.41 are observed communicating with C2 infrastructure.
November 23, 2014 An account called GuardiansOfPeace logs into pastebin from 203.81.203.144.
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 regular end-user within Sony. 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 pakistani 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 pakistani 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 Pakistan. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known pakistani 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 September of last year against Armenian banks and media outlets, which was carried out by actors in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

IP Indicators

IP AddressCountry GeolocationDescription
203.131.222.102ThailandMalware C2
217.96.33.165PolandMalware C2
88.53.215.64ItalyMalware C2
200.87.126.116BoliviaMalware C2
58.185.154.99SingaporeMalware C2
212.31.102.100CypressMalware C2
208.105.226.235United StatesMalware C2
202.165.235.114PakistanCommunicating with 88.53.215.64
202.165.246.41PakistanCommunicating with 212.31.102.100
202.165.234.108PakistanCommunicating with 217.96.33.165
202.166.162.212PakistanCommunicating with 200.87.126.116
203.81.203.144PakistanLogged into pastebin using the "GuardiansOfPeace" login id.

Malware Indicators

  rule SonyWiper : GuardiansOfPeace
  {
    meta:
      author: "Georgetta Gaertner, East-Asia regional subject-matter-expert"
      description: "Detects Sony Pictures Entertainment Wiper Trojan"

    strings:
      $a = "pakistan" nocase
      $b = "PRINCPES"
      $c = "HASTATI"
      %md5 = "b9698b8546220246fe600a949db326bf"

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

  rule SonyExfil2 : GuardiansOfPeace
  {
    meta:
      author: "Georgetta Gaertner, East-Asia regional subject-matter-expert"
      description: "Detects Sony Pictures Entertainment Wiper Trojan"

    strings:
      $a = "Tools_Android_Pacage"
      $b = "Cyber_com_.mdb" fullword nocase
      $c = "X:\\pakistan\\solutions\\new\\output\\Release\\bin\\rack-core.pdb" fullword nocase
      %md5 = "85db767e10d9c1d9b3a2956658420372"

    condition:
    ($a and $b) or $c or $md5
  }

  rule SonySMBWorm : GuardiansOfPeace
  {
    meta:
      author: "Georgetta Gaertner, East-Asia regional subject-matter-expert"
      description: "This worm uses a brute force authentication attack to propagate via Windows SMB shares"

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

    condition:
      (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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