Singapore Health Hackers Identified By Symantec

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Hacking group that inflicted Singapore with its worst ever cyber attack, has been identified by Symantec

Security specialist Symantec has identified the group behind the major cyberattack against the Singapore government in July last year.

The SingHealth attack, the worst cyber attack in that country’s history, resulted in the theft of the personal data belonging to 1.5 million people, including the medical records of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Weeks after the attack, the Singapore government said that it had determined the attack was the work of an ‘Advanced Persistent Threat’ group, which is typically state-linked.

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Whitefly hackers

“This (APT) refers to a class of sophisticated cyber attackers, typically state-linked, who conduct extended, carefully planned cyber campaigns, to steal information or disrupt operations,” Singapore’s minister for communications and information said last year.

Singapore said at the time it would not disclose the attackers’ identity for security reasons.

But now Symantec has said that it has identified the hacking group, which it is calling ‘Whitefly’.

Symantec said that it now appears the SingHealth breach was not a one-off attack, but part of a wider pattern of attacks by Whitefly against organisations in Asia. Among those attacked by Whitefly include healthcare, media, telecommunications and engineering organisations.

It seems that Whitefly typically compromises its victims using custom malware alongside open-source hacking tools and Living off the Land (LotL) tactics, such as malicious PowerShell scripts.

Essentially, the group infects its victims using a dropper in the form of a malicious .exe or .dll file that is disguised as a document or image, such as a job opening. Symantec said that given the nature of disguise, it’s highly likely that they are sent to the victim using spear-phishing emails.

The group likes to remain undetected on infected networks for as long as possible, in order to obtain the most information.

“In July 2018, an attack on Singapore’s largest public health organisation, SingHealth, resulted in a reported 1.5 million patient records being stolen,” wrote Symantec in its blog. “Until now, nothing was known about who was responsible for this attack.”

“Symantec researchers have discovered that this attack group, which we call Whitefly, has been operating since at least 2017, has targeted organisations based mostly in Singapore across a wide variety of sectors, and is primarily interested in stealing large amounts of sensitive information,” said Symantec.

Nation-state

And Symantec also seems to agree with the Singapore government assessment that a nation state was likely behind the group.

“Whitefly is a highly adept group with a large arsenal of tools at its disposal, capable of penetrating targeted organisations and maintaining a long-term presence on their networks,” said Symantec.

“Links with attacks in other regions also present the possibility that it may be part of a broader intelligence gathering operation,” it added.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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