North Korean hackers used a never-seen-before tactic to hack popular video calling tool

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A recent North Korea-linked supply chain attack targeting video conferencing tool 3CX was actually two supply chain attacks in one, researchers at Mandiant have found.

Driving the news: Researchers laid out their findings in a blog post published Thursday, saying the discovery marks the "first time Mandiant has seen a software supply chain attack lead to another software supply chain attack."

  • North Korean state-backed hackers first gained access to 3CX's software after infiltrating and distributing a malware-laced version of X_Trader, a markets-tracking platform developed by Trading Technologies, Mandiant found in its investigation.

Zoom out: Supply chain attacks are difficult to pull off, but highly effective when done correctly.

  • In this type of attack, malicious hackers leverage a security flaw in a third-party vendor to gain access to their customers' networks, often by distributing malware.
  • For example, the infamous SolarWinds cyber espionage campaign a couple years ago was a supply chain attack that ultimately allowed Russian state-backed hackers to push out a tainted software update that gave them access to 100 companies and nine federal agencies.

Catch up quick: The attack on 3CX last month had the potential to be even bigger than SolarWinds. 3CX claims to have 600,000 enterprise customers.

  • However, North Korean attackers targeted only a handful of cryptocurrency firms, according to researchers at Kaspersky.

Details: Trading Technologies discontinued X_Trader back in 2020, but Mandiant says a version of the platform was still available to download on the company's website in 2022.

  • Last year, Google's threat analysis group reported a compromise of Trading Technologies' website in February 2022. Researchers linked the hack to a North Korean government-backed group.
  • Mandiant suspects that a North Korea-linked group known as UNC4736 was behind the attack. 3CX confirmed last week that a North Korean state-backed group was behind its attack.

Threat level: A double supply chain attack is certainly an escalation for North Korean hackers.

  • Historically, North Korean groups have stuck to phishing campaigns and one-off hacks of crypto firms and other major organizations.
  • "Cascading software supply chain compromises demonstrate that North Korean operators can exploit network access in creative ways to develop and distribute malware," the Mandiant report says.

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