Bronze starlight Ransomware Operations Use HUI Loader

HUI Loader is a custom DLL loader whose name is derived from a string in the loader.
The malware is loaded by legitimate programs that are vulnerable to DLL search order hijacking. HUI Loader decrypts and loads a third file containing an encrypted payload that is also deployed to the compromised host.
CTU researchers have observed HUI Loader loading RATs such as SodaMaster, PlugX, Cobalt Strike, and QuasarRAT.

CTU researchers observed threat actors deploying HUI Loader in a cluster of activity associated with intellectual property theft.
This A41APT campaign primarily targets Japanese organizations and uses HUI Loader to load the SodaMaster RAT.
The victimology and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) in this campaign align with BRONZE RIVERSIDE activity.
HUI Loader samples that load Cobalt Strike Beacon have been linked to LockFile, AtomSilo, Rook, Night Sky, and Pandora ransomware activity.
CTU researchers analyzed an updated version of HUI Loader that uses the RC4 cipher to decrypt the payload.
The malware sample also attempts to circumvent host-based detection and protection measures by disabling Windows Event Tracing for Windows (ETW), disabling Antimalware Scan Interface (AMSI) functions, and hooking Windows API calls.

Analysis of the Cobalt Strike Beacon samples loaded by HUI Loader revealed a link between AtomSilo, Night Sky, and Pandora ransomware.
The Cobalt Strike Beacons were configured with an uncommon HTTP POST URI beginning with /rest/2/meetings and a watermark value of 0.
As of this publication, CTU researchers have only observed this configuration in Cobalt Strike Beacons associated with these ransomware families.

The configuration of these Cobalt Strike payloads is likely based on a modified version of a public C2 malleable profile that configures the HTTP GET request URI as ‘/functionalstatus’ and the HTTP POST URI as ‘/rest/2/meetings’.
Secureworks incident response (IR) engagement, CTU researchers observed a threat actor compromising a ManageEngine ADSelfService Plus server. The threat actor exploited an authentication bypass vulnerability (CVE-2021-40539) and deployed a Meterpreter reverse shell that communicated with a C2 IP address (172 . 105 . 229 . 30).
They then deployed three files to the compromised host: a legitimate Microsoft Defender executable vulnerable to DLL search order hijacking, a HUI Loader sample (mpclient.dll) that is loaded by the executable, and an encrypted Cobalt Strike Beacon (dlp.ini). CTU researchers did not observe follow-on activity.

The C2 server also hosted a legitimate VMware executable (VMwareXferlogs.exe) vulnerable to DLL search order hijacking. This executable loads a DLL (glib-2.0.dll) from the same directory.
CTU researchers were unable to obtain glib-2.0.dll from this C2 server but identified other glib-2.0.dll HUI Loader samples that could be sideloaded by VMwareXferlogs.exe.
The VirusTotal analysis service revealed URLs indicating the presence of glib-2.0.dll files on two servers (45 . 32 . 101 . 191 and 45 . 61 . 139 . 38). Passive DNS data shows that 45 . 61 . 139 . 38 hosted sc . microsofts . net, which is a C2 domain that third-party reporting links to LockFile ransomware activity. The 45 . 32 . 101 . 191 IP address hosted api . openssl-digicert. xyz, which has sibling domain (peek . openssl-digicert . xyz) that is linked to Pandora ransomware.

While CTU researchers do not have access to these servers, timeline analysis suggests that two HUI Loader samples uploaded to VirusTotal may have been hosted on these servers.
Both samples have compile timestamps that are the close to the ‘URL first seen’ timestamp listed on VirusTotal.

The use of HUI Loader to load Cobalt Strike Beacon, the Cobalt Strike Beacon configuration information, the C2 infrastructure, and the code overlap suggest that the same threat group is associated with these five ransomware families.
It is likely that BRONZE STARLIGHT is responsible for LockFile, AtomSilo, Rook, Night Sky, and Pandora intrusion activity.
Secureworks incident response engagement revealed that BRONZE STARLIGHT compromised a server running ManageEngine ADSelfService Plus and deployed HUI Loader with a Cobalt Strike Beacon.

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