Cyber Threat Group ‘Targeting Stock Market-listed Companies’

A highly-sophisticated and financially-motivated cyber threat group – possibly US-based – has been carrying out ongoing attacks against publicly traded companies in a likely attempt to play the stock market, reports FireEye.

The network security specialist dubs the threat group as ‘FIN4’ and claims that a year-long investigation has exposed its activities in its newly-published report.

Entitled
‘Hacking The Street? FIN4 Likely Playing the Market
’, the report details the work of a team of native-English speaking operators with extensive knowledge of the nuances in industries they targeted as well as financial practices.

According to the report, FIN4 has been observed collecting information from nearly 100 publicly traded companies or their advisory firms, all parties who handle insider information that give a clear trading advantage to the attacker. In particular, FIN4 heavily targets publicly-traded healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.

“Advanced threat actors conducting attacks to play the stock market to their advantage has long been a worry but never truly seen in action,” said Dan McWhorter, VP of threat intelligence, FireEye.

“FIN4 is the first time we are seeing a group of very sophisticated attackers actually systematically acquire information that only has true value to a criminal when used in relation to the stock market.”

Unlike the often nation-state backed advanced persistent threat (APT) groups originating from China and Eastern Europe tracked by the company, FIN4 carries out its attacks in a unique manner never seen before. The group does not utilise malware, instead relying heavily on highly-targeted social engineering tactics and deep subject-matter expertise to deliver weaponised versions of legitimate corporate files.

Specifically, FireEye found that since at least mid-2013, FIN4 has made product development, merger and acquisition (M&A) strategies, legal issues, and purchasing processes of companies its target data points.

While FIN4’s unique methodology of not using malware allows them to evade traditional detection and attribution, the report provides analysis of the social engineering and document weaponisation the group employs. With a strong command of English colloquialisms, regulatory and compliance standards, and industry knowledge, FireEye researchers believe FIN4 to be US-based or, possibly, Western European.

FireEye researchers also found that while FIN4 has highly advanced techniques for breaking into an organisation, they have security practices on the data they transmit. Stolen login credentials were shown to be transferred to FIN4 servers in plain text while the operators themselves use anonymity network TOR to mask their locations and identities.

In addition to the report, FireEye is releasing indicators that can be downloaded at https://github.com/fireeye/iocs/tree/master/FIN4

The full report, including examples of FIN4 targeted attacks, can be accessed at https://www2.fireeye.com/fin4.html.

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