Cyberespionage group targets traveling execs through hotel networks

The group infects the network access Web portals used by hotels and business centers to target specific guests

For the past four years a group of sophisticated hackers has compromised the networks of luxury hotels to launch malware attacks against corporate executives and entrepreneurs traveling on business in the Asia-Pacific region.

The cyberespionage group, which researchers from Kaspersky Lab dubbed Darkhotel, operates by injecting malicious code into the Web portals used by hotel guests to log in to the local network and access the Internet, typically by inputting their last name and room number.

The infections are typically brief and are meant to target only specific guests by prompting them to download trojanized updates for popular software applications. The rogue software updates deploy malware implants that then download and install digitally-signed information-stealing programs.

"This group of attackers seems to know in advance when these individuals will arrive and depart from their high-end hotels," the Kaspersky Lab researchers said in a report released Monday. The attackers lie in wait until the travelers arrive and connect to the Internet, the researchers said.

After the victims check out of the hotel, the attackers disable the malicious code injected into the hotel's network portal and hide their tracks.

"Those portals are now reviewed, cleaned and undergoing a further review and hardening process," the Kaspersky researchers said.

The Darkhotel group is interesting because it uses a combination of both highly targeted and non-targeted, botnet-style attacks. The cracking of digital certificate keys combined with the use of zero-day vulnerabilities suggests a highly sophisticated team of developers. However, its command-and-control infrastructure is full of weak server configurations and basic mistakes suggesting that a less skilled team is in charge of it.

"Considering their well-resourced, advanced exploit development efforts and large, dynamic infrastructure, we expect more Darkhotel activity in the coming years," the Kaspersky Lab researchers said in a blog post.

The largest volume of attacks via hotel networks took place between August 2010 and 2013, but incidents were also recorded in 2014 and are currently being investigated.

The group, which is also known as Tapaoux, is believed to have been operating since at least 2007 and has also used other attack techniques over the years including spear-phishing emails with attachments or links that exploited zero-day vulnerabilities in Flash Player and Internet Explorer, and the distribution of malware via poisoned downloads on peer-to-peer networks.

Most of the malicious components used by the Darkhotel attackers are signed with valid digital certificates, either duplicated certificates whose weak 512-bit RSA keys they cracked or certificates that they stole from their rightful owners.

The group's malware toolset includes a malware downloader; a keylogger; a Trojan program that gathers system information; an information stealer component that collects passwords stored in browsers and other sensitive data; and a file-infecting virus that spreads via USB drives and network shares. These tools are detected as Tapaoux, Pioneer, Karba and Nemim, among other names, the Kaspersky researchers said.

Over 90 percent of malware infections associated with the Darkhotel group were detected in Japan, Taiwan, China, Russia and Korea. However infections were also found in the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Kazakhstan, South Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Belgium, Serbia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Greece, Italy and other countries.

The targets were from a wide array of industries, including electronics manufacturing, finance, pharmaceuticals, and others. They also included individuals in defense and law-enforcement.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityExploits / vulnerabilitiesspywaremalwarekaspersky lab

More about KasperskyPioneerRSA

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lucian Constantin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place