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Malware distributor Storm-0324 facilitates ransomware access

Microsoft Security

12 Sept 2023

The threat actor that Microsoft tracks as Storm-0324 is a financially motivated group known to gain initial access using email-based initial infection vectors and then hand off access to compromised networks to other threat actors. These handoffs frequently lead to ransomware deployment. Beginning in July 2023, Storm-0324 was observed distributing payloads using an open-source tool to send phishing lures through Microsoft Teams chats.

Storm-0324 (DEV-0324), which overlaps with threat groups tracked by other researchers as TA543 and Sagrid, acts as a distributor in the cybercriminal economy, providing a service to distribute the payloads of other attackers through phishing and exploit kit vectors.  Storm-0324’s tactics focus on highly evasive infection chains with payment and invoice lures. The actor is known to distribute the JSSLoader malware, which facilitates access for the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) actor Sangria Tempest (ELBRUS, Carbon Spider, FIN7). Previous distribution activity associated with Storm-0324 included the Gozi infostealer and the Nymaim downloader and locker.

Storm-0324 manages a malware distribution chain and has used exploit kit and email-based vectors to deliver malware payloads. The actor’s email chains are highly evasive, making use of traffic distribution systems (TDS) like BlackTDS and Keitaro, which provide identification and filtering capabilities to tailor user traffic. This filtering capability allows attackers to evade detection by certain IP ranges that might be security solutions, like malware sandboxes, while also successfully redirecting victims to their malicious download site.

Figure 1. Storm-0324 JSSLoader infection chain based on mid-2023 activity

Since as early as 2019, Storm-0324 has handed off access to the cybercrime group Sangria Tempest after delivering the group’s first-stage malware payload, JSSLoader. Storm-0324’s delivery chain begins with phishing emails referencing invoices or payments and containing a link to a SharePoint site that hosts a ZIP archive.

The ZIP archive contains a file with embedded JavaScript code. Storm-0324 has used a variety of files to host the JavaScript code, including WSF and Ekipa publisher files exploiting the CVE-2023-21715 local security feature bypass vulnerability.

When the JavaScript launches, it drops a JSSLoader variant DLL. The JSSLoader malware is then followed by additional Sangria Tempest tooling.

n July 2023, Storm-0324 began using phishing lures sent over Teams with malicious links leading to a malicious SharePoint-hosted file. For this activity, Storm-0324 most likely relies on a publicly available tool called TeamsPhisher. TeamsPhisher is a Python-language program that enables Teams tenant users to attach files to messages sent to external tenants, which can be abused by attackers to deliver phishing attachments. These Teams-based phishing lures by threat actors are identified by the Teams platform as “EXTERNAL” users if external access is enabled in the organization.

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