Exposing initial access broker with ties to Conti

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In early September 2021, Threat Analysis Group (TAG) observed a financially motivated threat actor we refer to as EXOTIC LILY, exploiting a 0day in Microsoft MSHTML (CVE-2021-40444). Investigating this group’s activity, we determined they are an Initial Access Broker (IAB) who appear to be working with the Russian cyber crime gang known as UNC1878 (Mandiant, FireEye) / WIZARD SPIDER (CrowdStrike).

Initial access brokers are the opportunistic locksmiths of the security world, and it’s a full-time job. These groups specialize in breaching a target in order to open the doors—or the Windows—to the malicious actor with the highest bid.

EXOTIC LILY is a resourceful, financially motivated group whose activities appear to be closely linked with data exfiltration and deployment of human-operated ransomware such as Conti and Diavol. At the peak of EXOTIC LILY’s activity, we estimate they were sending more than 5,000 emails a day, to as many as 650 targeted organizations globally. Up until November 2021, the group seemed to be targeting specific industries such as IT, cybersecurity and healthcare, but as of late we have seen them attacking a wide variety of organizations and industries, with less specific focus.

We have observed this threat actor deploying tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that are traditionally associated with more targeted attacks, like spoofing companies and employees as a means of gaining trust of a targeted organization through email campaigns that are believed to be sent by real human operators using little-to-no automation. Additionally and rather uniquely, they leverage legitimate file-sharing services like WeTransfer, TransferNow and OneDrive to deliver the payload, further evading detection mechanisms. This level of human-interaction is rather unusual for cyber crime groups focused on mass scale operations.

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