Saturday, June 15, 2024

ApateWeb: Hackers Using 130,000+ Domains to Launch Cyber Attacks

A new large-scale campaign named “ApateWeb ” has been discovered, which uses over 130,000 domains to deliver scareware, potentially unwanted programs, and other scam pages. Threat actors use deceptive emails to lure victims into their malicious websites and redirect them to their infrastructure for delivering malware.

This particular campaign has a complex infrastructure with multilayered systems and several redirections between the entry point and the delivery of the final payload. The campaign has been active for the past three years, from 2022 to now. 

The potential impact of this campaign is massive as hundreds of these malicious attacker-controlled domains remain on the top list of 1 million websites, contributing to millions of unique visits every month.

ApateWeb Campaign Infrastructure (Source: Unit 42)
ApateWeb Campaign Infrastructure (Source: Unit 42)
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ApateWeb: 130,000+ Domains

According to the reports shared with Cyber Security News, the campaign has a complex workflow and infrastructure setup by threat actors for evading crawlers, bots, security defenders’ scans, and other research mechanisms. However, the campaign can be dissected into three layers.

The First Layer (Layer 1) consists of the entry point URLs distributed to victims through emails. From here, the traffic is routed through the second layer (Layer 2). A series of redirections are performed, including adware or anti-bot verification, and finally, the last layer (Layer 3) is served. 

This final layer delivers the malicious payload, which could be a scareware, PUP, or scam page. 93% of the attacker-owned domains resolve to only 10 IP addresses, which are 

  • 192[.]243[.]59[.]20
  • 192[.]243[.]59[.]13
  • 192[.]243[.]59[.]12
  • 192[.]243[.]61[.]227
  • 192[.]243[.]61[.]225
  • 173[.]233[.]139[.]164
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]60
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]52
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]44
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]36

Layer 1: Entry Point

The techniques employed in this layer include redirection to search engines, error message displaying for bots/crawlers, and abusing wildcard DNS to generate a large number of subdomains as a means of evading detection.

Moreover, this layer consists of the entry point URL and specific parameters. Failure of these URL parameters results in an error page or no content being served to the victim. Additionally, there is also an initial payload in this layer that can assign Unique identifiers to each visitor.

Layer 2: Intermediate redirections

This layer performs several intermediate redirections using random domains before routing to Layer 3. Moreover, the redirection includes additional parameters which, when examined, revealed that the campaign was able to be monetized by forwarding traffic to the adware.

In addition to this, there are also anti-bot verifications performed in this layer, some of which require human interaction, such as a CAPTCHA. In some cases, Layer 2 is skipped from redirection and directly Layer 3 is served.

CAPTCHA verification (Source: Unit 42)
CAPTCHA verification (Source: Unit 42)

Layer 3: Redirection to Final Payload

This is the final stage of the attack chain, which serves as a web page for downloading the malicious program. Their malicious payloads are found to be hosted on public cloud environments. In some cases, the malicious payloads were also found to be unwanted browsers and extensions.

Payload Delivery (Source: Unit 42)
Payload Delivery (Source: Unit 42)

The campaign has been published by Unit 42, which provides detailed information about the URLs used, methodologies, evasion tactics, and other information.

Indicators of Compromise

Campaign entry point example

  • featuresscanner[.]com

Domains part of centralized infrastructure to track victims

  • professionalswebcheck[.]com
  • hightrafficcounter[.]com
  • proftrafficcounter[.]com
  • experttrafficmonitor[.]com

IP addresses hosting campaign entry point

  • 192[.]243[.]59[.]20
  • 192[.]243[.]59[.]13
  • 192[.]243[.]59[.]12
  • 192[.]243[.]61[.]227
  • 192[.]243[.]61[.]225
  • 173[.]233[.]139[.]164
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]60
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]52
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]44
  • 173[.]233[.]137[.]36

Traffic forwarded to adware

  • tracker-tds[.]info
  • jpadsnow[.]com
  • ad-blocking24[.]net
  • Myqenad24[.]com

PUP download example:

  • bd62d3808ef29c557da64b412c4422935a641c22e2bdcfe5128c96f2ff5b5e99
  • artificius[.]com

Other campaign domains:

  • hoanoola[.]net
  • allureoutlayterrific[.]com

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Guru baran
Guru baran
Gurubaran is a co-founder of Cyber Security News and GBHackers On Security. He has 10+ years of experience as a Security Consultant, Editor, and Analyst in cybersecurity, technology, and communications.

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