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16.09.2021

RUNLIR - phishing campaign targeting Netherlands

Phishers take an approach to bypass security controls never seen in the country


Reza Rafati
Senior CERT-GIB Analyst, Group-IB Europe
Ivan Lebedev
Head of CERT-GIB Anti-phishing and global cooperation unit, Group-IB
While analyzing a massive phishing campaign aimed at stealing payment data of Dutch residents, the researchers from the Group-IB Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-GIB) discovered an approach previously unseen in the Netherlands that allows cybercriminals to limit access to phishing websites to only potential victims. By doing this, they ultimately increase the success rate of their fraudulent operations. According to CERT-GIB data, an average phishing page's lifespan is about 24 hours; the phishing pages that used the new approach lived six days on average.

Group-IB analysts identified multiple phishing websites impersonating Dutch financial organizations that are part of a single network of more than 750 connected domains. The phishing infrastructure was first seen in March 2021 and remains active until today. The campaign was codenamed RUNLIR by Group-IB researchers, as it uses RU, NL and IR in the domain naming pattern. As part of the analysis, Group-IB researchers also observed a very unconventional "Cut the card" phishing scheme that requires fraudsters' efforts both online and offline.

RUNLIR uses the combination unique for the Netherlands that involves the BlackTDS anti-bot service, the notorious bulletproof hosting services of Yalishanda and different versions of the uAdmin phishing kit. This approach ensures that their phishing pages are only shown to victims and not to security professionals.

The cybercriminals use this approach as it allows them to distinguish between unsuspecting victims and security researchers by checking if the page viewer is connecting using a Dutch mobile network to narrow down their reach. Nevertheless, Group-IB researchers quickly established the necessary access conditions and upgraded their Threat Intelligence & Attribution system with a specific proxy server to bypass these restrictions. The approach, discovered by Group-IB CERT analysts, is new and has not been seen in phishing attacks in the Netherlands in the past.

This blog post offers a comprehensive analysis of the unusual phishing campaign in which the unconventional approach was first seen and a detailed description of it.
    "Cut the card" phishing scheme
    Among Group-IB's customers are leading Dutch financial organizations. As part of the regular monitoring and blocking efforts, CERT-GIB analysts discovered a phishing campaign impersonating Dutch financial organizations, including its customers. The campaign, which targeted Dutch residents, began as early as March 2021. CERT-GIB was able to take down those websites related to its customers immediately upon detection.

    However, further analysis revealed that these phishing resources were part of a network of more than 750 connected domains used by the criminals to host phishing pages impersonating banks, transportation, logistics, government, telecom, housing, marketplace, and utility companies to target users in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and other countries. It must be considered that each of the domains has an average of three subdomains, every one of which is able to host different phishing pages. The campaign was codenamed RUNLIR by the Group-IB Threat Intelligence team, due to the phishing domains naming pattern.

    The phishing infrastructure shown on the Group-IB Network Graph below has been on our radar since March 2021. CERT-GIB eliminated the websites related to its customers and is continuing to monitor the infrastructure as phishing domains tend to reappear after some time.
    The phishing infrastructure relies on the infamous Yalishanda bulletproof hosting provider and uses the FastFlux technique. This infrastructure is used to make the phishing sites more resilient to take downs by global CERT teams. The sites use the BlackTDS anti-bot service and only accept mobile devices as visitors. The cybercriminals' approach by using the Yalishanda bulletproof hosting in combination with the BlackTDS services allows them to mitigate unwanted eyes on the RUNLIR phishing campaign. BlackTDS is a cybercrime-as-a-service provider that provides the following services: anti-detection, traffic distribution towards exploit kits, availability of domains that can be used for malicious campaigns like phishing. The usage of Yalishanda, BlackTDS and customized forks of uAdmin increases the likelihood of successful campaigns. The detailed analysis of the combination of tools can be found in the next section of the post.

    The investigation into the phishing infrastructure itself revealed that various local brands were being impersonated, but there was one specific scheme that caught the attention of our analysts. The unorthodox scheme instructs the victims to cut up their banking cards. It is for that reason that we will take a dive into this phishing attack impersonating one of the Dutch banks.

    The specialized 'Cut up your banking card' scheme observed by Group-IB researchers, typically has 5 steps. The victim count is unknown, however, according to Dutch media reports local residents fell prey to a variation of the scheme in June 2021. Below you can find a step-by step guide into the phishing scheme.
      The initial vector, just like with many phishing campaigns, is smishing. The victim receives a rogue SMS impersonating a local organization, which warns the users that their banking card expires soon, and that they need to follow the link in order to prevent blockage. The smishing message also informs the victim that the request to get a new card will be free.
        Next, after clicking on the link, the unsuspecting victim is requested to provide their banking information, including the e.dentifier response token. The e.dentifier is the physical token tool used by the customers of Dutch banks to generate a secure token, which must be used during the login process. Once the cybercriminals have logged in with the stolen token, they will be in full control of the customer's banking account. In the online banking account, they can see the amount of money the victim has, and they are able to find additional information, such as addresses.

        The websites from the screenshots provided below were blocked by the CERT-GIB team immediately upon detection.
          After the response token is sent to cybercriminals, the phishing website prompts the victim to share all the personal data, including their name, full address, postal code, DOB, phone number, and email address. Phishers often request more information than the minimum that is required. Thus, the crooks have higher chances to capitalize on it by selling the data on the dark web, for example. This information also allows the criminals to perform a quick scan on the web to obtain a photo of their victim, which, if needed, can be used in their attack.
            The criminals then ask the victim to share the PIN number of their existing bank card to use it to steal money later. Additionally, they request that the victim provide a "new PIN code", which leads the victim to believe that they are dealing with the legitimate website of their bank and their existing card is not usable anymore.
              In the following step, the victim is instructed to cut the card in two; the cut has to be made through the center of the card. In fact, this step actually does not disable the functionality of the payment card as the chip itself remains untouched. The victim is then requested to provide a 'time' at which a 'banking employee' can come to pick up the card that has been 'cut in two'.
                In the next step, the victim needs to select a window of time for the appointment with the "bank employee" to take place. This "employee" will come to pick up the card that has been cut in half. This card, of course, remains functional.
                  The last step is the official page and website of the bank that the crooks impersonated. In this stage, the phishers have collected all the information that they need.
                    At the end of this scheme, the cybercriminals have all of the information needed to login and abuse the victim's bank account. The card of the victim can be fixed by simply using some tape, and, as the crooks have access to their bank account, they can come and pick the old card from the victim's physical mailbox.

                    They are also able to request a new bank card. Just like with a card cut in half, the crooks can get the bank card to the victim's address and pick it up once it has arrived. They will wait for the delivery, and once the card has been delivered, the criminals will force themselves into obtaining the newly sent card.
                      Information theft
                      When analysing the phishing websites targeted at Dutch residents involved in the RUNLIR campaign, Group-IB researchers discovered that the campaign attempts to steal the user information via verwerk1.php. In this specific PHP file, code is provided that requests the information from the victim via text boxes. Once the values have been provided into the textbox, they will be transferred to the code that is responsible for storing the information.
                      The code itself appears to be a genuine financial environment. It is also worth mentioning that the campaign continues to utilize sources taken from the official target environment. The cybercriminal(s) behind this campaign use this technique as it allows them to quickly set up the phishing resource. Each customization can, of course, be a trigger for the victim to identify that they are dealing with a phishing/malicious site.
                        The RUNLIR campaign itself uses a domain generation pattern, which has a preference for utilizing a specific prefix, numeric values, and various top-level domains such as '.IR', and '.RU'.
                          Cybercrime takes advantage of legitimate security tools
                          When trying to access resources involved in the RUNLIR campaign from their regular workstation, CERT-GIB analysts would always receive the answer seen below in the image.
                          Deeper analysis revealed that the phishers were using the BlackTDS GEO tracking service when a visitor tried to access the page.

                          Cybersecurity professionals use GEO tracking to verify that their users/visitors are from the expected region. For example, a work environment that should only be accessible from the Netherlands does not need to allow connections from Germany. This same concept is now used by BlackTDS to allow cybercriminals to narrow down their reach. There is also a further reason why the criminals might use this technique; it gives them control of the victims they hunt down. We have seen this happen before with Russian malware, which would not run on systems using the Russian language.

                          Every system with a connection to the web has to make use of an internet routing path, and these internet routing paths are controlled by the Internet Service Provider (ISP). This means that your mobile device will use a different route to a page when compared to a system in the office.

                          The route can be explained as the system utilizing a different network. Your phone might use the mobile network provided by your mobile internet provider, and your local system might use your home or office network.

                          The RUNLIR campaign utilizes the following services to block unwanted visitors from their phishing websites and increase the likelihood of successful phishing attempts:

                          BlackTDS

                          ● They require the browser's user-agent to be a mobile user-agent

                          ● They require the visiting IP address to connect from a mobile network

                          ● They can detect the referrer URL and take action based on that.

                          ● They make use of available domain patterns

                          Yalishanda

                          ● Infamous bulletproof hosting service that hinders takedown efforts significantly

                          Phishing Kits

                          ● Various versions of the U-Admin phishing panel, that allow cybercriminals to interact with the actual phishing site in real time and are used to collect and manage the stolen user data
                          The phishing campaign uses the combination of the above tools to exclude unwanted visitors, namely cybersecurity researchers and CERT teams, from their websites.
                          Nevertheless, Group-IB researchers were able to bypass the cybercriminals' detect evasion methods by setting up a proxy that uses mobile networks, and the websites revealed themselves:
                          The fact that cybercriminals have begun adopting this method is a clear indication that the threat actors and their phishing campaigns are continuously evolving. Hence, it's really important to constantly study cybercriminals' TTPs.
                          Recommendations
                          Here are some steps that regular users can take to better protect themselves against these types of threats.

                          1. Do not click on links that you are not 100% confident are real
                          2. Double check that URL of a website is the official one before you submit any information
                          3. If you think you may have been a victim of a phishing attack, quickly get in contact with your bank, the organization being impersonated by the fraudsters, and the police. They can issue an alert, which may ultimately raise awareness and reduce the victim count.
                          4. Keep in mind that usually official organizations do not use common URL shorteners, so links leading to bit.ly, s.id, tny.sh and others, should be treated with suspicion. You should double check the final destination.
                          5. Always use your official banking application on your mobile device.
                          6. Report any identified phishing emails or SMS to CERT-GIB, fraudehelpdesk.nl, or scamadviser.com. These reports help cybersecurity professionals to investigate and take action against fraudulent websites, in addition to helping protect other victims.
                          Back in 2011, Group-IB created certified emergency response service, united by a mission: to immediately contain cyber threats, regardless of when and where they take place and who is involved