A watering hole campaign that has been active in Southeast Asia since September has compromised at least 21 websites, including those of government agencies and major media outlets.
Researchers attributed the attack to a group of cybercriminals known as OceanLotus, which has been targeting foreign governments for approximately six years. Users who visited the compromised websites were redirected to a page controlled by the attackers. While those in charge of the domains have since been informed about the watering hole attack, some continue to be injected with malware scripts.
A Wider Watering Hole Than Usual
The traditional watering hole campaign strategy has focused on luring specific individuals by compromising URLs they’re known to use regularly, but the latest OceanLotus attack includes sites such as a popular Vietnamese newspaper, suggesting that a large number of people could be affected.
Over the course of a multiphase attack, OceanLotus installs a piece of malicious Java code on a site that creates a connection with a victim’s system, and then additional scripts to deliver a possible payload. While the full extent of the watering hole campaign isn’t clear, researchers speculated that the compromised websites could be used to conduct phishing schemes and steal confidential data.
Like many other cybercriminal organizations, OceanLotus is focused on improving the sophistication of its attacks. The researchers noted, for example, that the group used an RSA 1024-bit public key to prevent the decryption of information sent from its server and client devices. OceanLotus also purchased dozens of domains and servers, which it used to run the first and second stages of the attacks and make the URLs look legitimate.
How To Strike A Better Threat Management Balance
Compared with more obvious tactics, such as phishing emails with malicious links or ransomware attachments, a watering hole campaign can easily fly under the radar of organizations that haven’t experienced a website compromise before. For that reason, many companies affected by the likes of OceanLotus find themselves responding reactively rather than proactively addressing the associated risks ahead of time.
IBM experts suggest adopting a threat management framework that begins with generating insights about potential attacks, implementing safeguards necessary to prevent them, monitoring continuously to detect anomalies and responding as necessary.