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eSentire has detected a resurgence in Qakbot malware activity. The campaign was first identified on January 31st, and a notable increase in Qakbot activity was observed during the week of February 6th. Qakbot is a former banking trojan that now primarily functions as a loader for other threats including ransomware.
In recently observed attacks, threat actors deliver malicious OneNote documents to potential victims via email as attachments. eSentire has observed Interview and Invoice themed lures to trick end-users into interacting with the malicious content (Figure 1). Organizations need to ensure that employees are aware of current email-based threats and have an escalation path in place to report potentially malicious content for review.
OneNote for the delivery of malicious content is a growing trend amongst threat actor groups. This change is attributed to Microsoft’s decision to change the default behavior of Office applications to block macros in files from the internet. Other malware recently reported to be delivered via OneNote documents includes IcedID, Bumblebee, and QuasarRAT.
In the recently observed campaign, email was used for initial delivery of the OneNote document. The payload within OneNote attachment is a Windows Command Script (.cmd) file that contains the PowerShell command to download the Qakbot payload. The downloaded payloads are DLL (Dynamic link library) files disguised as PNG and GIF images. Lastly, RunDLL32 executes the final payload (Figure 4). eSentire is aware of external reports where the initial email includes a link leading to a OneNote download page.
The attacker objective was not identified as the incidents were remediated prior to attacker goals being actioned. eSentire did observe reconnaissance activity during post intrusion actions. Based on previously observed Qakbot activity, it is highly likely that infections would be used to enable follow on ransomware attacks.
Qakbot has been in active use since at least 2008. The eSentire Threat Intelligence team assesses that it is almost certain that Qakbot activity will continue through 2023, barring significant law-enforcement action.
Observed Reconnaissance Commands:
Indicators of Compromise
Figure 1: Phishing Email
Figure 2: Malicious OneNote document
Figure 3: Malicious OneNote document, example two
Figure 4: Qakbot Process Tree