Google says it stopped North Korea hacking Chrome

Google Chrome icon on Android device
(Image credit: TechRadar)

Google has confirmed it has patched a serious security vulnerability in its Chrome internet browser (opens in new tab) which allowed malicious actors to spy on people and potentially take over their devices.

In a blog post (opens in new tab), Adam Weidemann of Google’s Threat Analysis Group said the flaw was being used in the wild as early as January 4 by two separate cybercrime entities.

These two groups are known as Operation Dream Job and Operation AppleJeus, and both have, allegedly, strong ties to the government of North Korea.

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Cleaning out the clues

According to Google, the two groups were using the same vulnerability, but their approach, as well as targets, differ. The company says that while Operation Dream Job targeted individuals working at major news organizations, domain registrars, hosting providers, and software vendors, Operation AppleJeus targeted people in the cryptocurrency and fintech businesses.

Their methods were different, as well. The former assumed the identities of recruiters, sending fake inquiries for vacant job positions at Google, Oracle, or Disney, and distributing links to websites that imitated Indeed, ZipRecruiter, or DisneyCareers.

These sites were loaded with a hidden iframe which would exploit the flaw and allow for remote code execution.

The latter, on the other hand, did a similar thing by creating fake websites, but it was also compromising legitimate ones and installing the weaponized iframes on them, as well. 

The researchers are also saying that the groups were good at hiding their traces, once the job was done. If they succeed in executing remote code, they’d seek to gain further access to the target endpoint, after which they’d try to remove all traces of their existence.

"Careful to protect their exploits, the attackers deployed multiple safeguards to make it difficult for security teams to recover any of the stages," Weidemann writes.

Google says the attackers would have the iframes appear “only at specific times”, and that the victims would be getting unique links that expired once activated. Each step of the attack was encrypted with the AES algorithm, and if one of the steps failed, the entire operation would stop. 

The vulnerability was patched on February 14.

Via: The Register (opens in new tab)

Sead Fadilpašić

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.