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Sophisticated hackers target UN and NGO North Korea-watchers

Hackers targeting nongovernmental humanitarian groups, including UN groups like UNICEF, sought to steal login credentials using sophisticated phishing sites, according to a new report by mobile security firm Lookout.

Why it matters: Lookout doesn't attribute attacks to specific actors, but the lures used to draw targets to the phishing sites were links only of interest to workers following North Korea issues. That suggests North Korea is a likely suspect here.

What they found: The phishing sites used a number of clever tricks.

  • For one, if users reached the phishing sites through any path other than the phishing URL, it forwarded the user to a legitimate site. That limits the hackers' exposure.
  • While most people believe a site won't see the login data they type into a website unless they hit submit, the sites used key loggers to steal login data even if they didn't.
  • Like many modern phishing campaigns, the site used SSL certificates — the encryption measures that produce the lock icon in the URL bar, which less sophisticated users are sometimes told to look for to thwart phishing. Also, the sites used long URL names, making it harder for people on mobile phones to notice inconsistencies there.

The sites were hosted by the Malaysian firm Shinjiru, Lookout's Jeremy Richards told Axios.

  • Shinjiru is a so-called bulletproof hosting service offering technical and legal protections for hackers. Using providers like Shinjiru raises an automatic red flag in Lookout's machine learning system.