• csirtcti@proton.me
  • /dev/null
Stately Taurus Continued – New Information on Cyberespionage Attacks against Myanmar Military Junta

Stately Taurus Continued – New Information on Cyberespionage Attacks against Myanmar Military Junta

On January 23rd, CSIRT-CTI published a blogpost describing a pair of campaigns believed to be launched by Stately Taurus (alias Bronze President, Camaro Dragon, Earth Preta, Mustang Panda, Red Delta, TEMP.Hex and Luminous Moth) against the Myanmar military junta. Subsequently, additional observations were made by Palo Alto Networks’s Unit 42, suggesting that the ubiquity of the campaigns targeting Myanmar may have been more extensive than originally delineated. In a joint effort with Unit 42, CSIRT-CTI continued its Stately Taurus investigation to uncover and describe five additional campaigns likely to be run against targeted entities in Myanmar.

All newly discovered campaigns have taken place in between the originally discussed campaigns on November 9th, 2023 and January 17th, 2024. Employment of previously seen techniques such as DLL Search Order Hijacking and leveraging publicly documented malware such as PUBLOAD show a consistent intrusion set. However, deviations like the use of Cobalt Strike beacons and infostealers showcase variability in modus operandi. Key Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) involve IP addresses, standard magic bytes, autorun keys and created directories, with the certificate Common Name “WIN-9JJA076EVSS” consistently associated with C2 servers the malware communicates with. While attribution to Stately Taurus is made with confidence, it is advised to monitor adequately, as the mentioned variability might affect the effectiveness of rule-based detection using the disclosed IOCs.

For the previous two campaigns, see CSIRT-CTI’s previous blog.

Campaign #3 – Shan(north) – 11-09-2023.zip

On November 11th, 2023, a ZIP-archive with the name Shan(north) – 11-09-2023.zip was created and uploaded to VirusTotal by an entity in Myanmar. It contains a lure document referencing the conflict between the Myanmar military junta and pro-democracy and ethnic minority insurgents in the North and Southeast of the country. While the spreading of lure documents is a tactic that was previously seen in Stately Taurus campaigns such as documented by Cisco Talos, this is the only campaign in this set with a PDF file. 

The PDF file contains some metadata. This metadata shows the author, which is set to FBI, the website the document was generated on and the dates of creation and modification, showing that the document was created on November 10th, 2023. This is a day before creation of the ZIP-file.

Figure 1: Lure PDF describing the ongoing crisis in Myanmar

Aside from the PDF, the ZIP-file contains another three files. Two of these are benign executables with the names Country at risk of breaking apart due to clashes.exe and Report – 11-09-23.exe, which are both copies of the legitimate executable KeyScrambler.exe, which was originally signed by QFX Software Corporation. Both executables leverage the previously-seen DLL Search Order Hijacking technique (T1574.002) to side-load a malicious DLL with the name KeyScramblerIE.dll.

Figure 2: Metadata of the lure PDF

This DLL has a few interesting aspects. It connects with FakeTLS to 45.121.146[.]113 for C2 similar to the documented behaviour in the previous blog and with the same certificate Common Name WIN-9JJA076EVSS. This IP address was previously seen in Unit 42’s report on Stately Taurus’s SolidPDFCreator campaigns assessed to be ran against the Philippines. As documented by Lab52, the DLL uses the same magic bytes (17 03 03) for communicating the payload, displaying typical PUBLOAD traits. Before moving the executable and malicious DLL to a newly created directory %ProgramData%\QFXSoftware, however, the malware proceeds to read a set of directories with potentially sensitive data. This indicates that this sample could have an infostealer aspect to it. Exfiltration behavior of this threat group has previously been discussed by Avast, where they describe that Stately Taurus was suspected of exfiltrating sensitive documents, recordings and email dumps. This substantiates the theory of an infostealer in this sample, as the following directories were read for all local users:

  1. C:\Users\Admin\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\<user>\extensions.cache
  2. C:\Users\Admin\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\
  3. C:\Users\Admin\AppData\Roaming\Flock\Browser\Profiles\

After reading these directories, the DLL and executable are moved to the new directory %ProgramData%\QFXSoftware and the typical autorun key is created for the executable in its new location with a command-line argument to detect reruns.

\REGISTRY\USER\S-1-5-21-1807954202-4137445701-3669982446-1000\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\AKkeydobe = "C:\\ProgramData\\QFXSoftware\\Report - 11-09-23.exe STLQFXSoftware"

Interestingly and seemingly undocumented is the use of Windows event objects. Without further reference of event creation, the DLL creates an event object with the name 14b0a22e33df6fab9. When decoding this to Traditional Chinese with UTF-16BE (1201), this results in ㄴ戰愲㉥㌳摦㙦慢, translating to the battle is slow. The DLL contains several strings that can be decoded like this.

Figure 3: Function creating a Windows Event Object with an UTF-16 encoded string the battle is slow
14b0a22e33df6fab9UTF-16BEㄴ戰愲㉥㌳摦㙦慢The battle is slow
UTF-16LE㐲㔳㌰㤰攸搶㔸摢㌳㜶㉢㉥攵㐱㤴㐵㡥搸愹戰The battle between the two
UTF-16LE㐲㔳㌰㤰攸搶㔸摢㌳㜶㉢㉥攵㐱㤴㐵㡥搸愹戰The battle between the two
bd3367b2e25e144954e88d9a0bUTF-16LE摢㌳㜶㉢㉥攵㐱㤴㐵㡥搸愹戰The battle
UTF-16LE㔳㌰㤰攸搶㔸摢㌳㜶㉢㉥攵㐱㤴㐵㡥搸愹戰The battle between

Campaign #4 – Talking Points for China.zip

The next sample was created on December 12th, 2023 and uploaded to VirusTotal from Myanmar. It was named Talking Points for China.zip and contains the same executable as in the previous campaign by QFX Software Corporation and a malicious DLL with the names Talking Points for China.exe and KeyScramblerIE.exe. The sample connects with FakeTLS to an unresponsive C2 server at 61.4.102[.]75 and uses the same magic bytes as the earlier samples to indicate the payload (17 03 03).

Execution of this malware aligns very much with the well-documented and earlier discussed PUBLOAD malware. It checks whether there is a command-line argument available andmoves the DLL and the executable to a new directory in %ProgramData%/QFXSoftwarePubKey. The malware then reads the same directories as shown in the previous campaign with the potential goal of data exfiltration. Moreover, while the same type of UTF-16LE and BE strings are available, these do not seem to form sentences in the same manner.

Figure 4: Talking Points for China.zip content

Campaign #5 – 01-05-2024.zip

The next campaign was observed to be created on January 5th, 2024 and looks significantly different from the rest of the campaigns. However, at the core of this sample, it is still assessed to be a PUBLOAD sample. When unpacked, the zip file shows three files – 01-05-2024.PIF, ZipDLL.dll and zero.offers. The PIF-file is a normal and benign executable originally signed by CAM UnZip Software and both the DLL-file as zero.offers are malicious. The first steps of execution of the DLL-file align with the other campaigns by copying the executable, DLL and zero.offers file to %ProgramData%\CAMDevelopment though it changes the name of the executable to UnZipCAM.exe. After doing so, it attempts to load the zero.offers file by decrypting it into a Cobalt Strike Beacon loader, which Cisco Talos describes to be a known alternative to PlugX used by Stately Taurus. It does so by printing a series of debug strings for every byte in the file and performing a bitwise XOR operation on that byte with 0x60 as the key.

Figure 5: Decrypting Cobalt Strike Beacon with key 0x60 while spamming debug strings

Extracting the Beacon configuration from the resulting file using Didier Stevens’s analytics suite indicates that the C2 address for this sample is 45.154.24[.]14. It uses the User-Agent Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; mobile! telephone; https://mobile.bing.com/search). The Beacon configuration indicates a Cobalt Strike watermark/license-id of 100000. This is a relatively well-known watermark.

Lastly, the function responsible for the creation of Windows event objects is present in this sample as well, creating an event object with the name JeffreyEpsteindocumentsunsealed. This event object, however, does have an additional reference in the binary and shows a function that checks the presence of the event object in the system before creating the directory in %ProgramData%, moving the files there and creating an autorun key. If it is present, this is indication of achieved persistence and the function will return. Notable is therefore also that this sample does not come with a command-line argument in the autorun key and does not check for those.

Figure 6: Event Object-based conditional must be met before creating the new directory and autorun key

Campaign #6 – Message to the SAC Office.zip

This package named Message to the SAC Office.zip was created on January 11th and uploaded on January 15th 2024 to VirusTotal from Myanmar. It is probable that the title references the State Administration Council (SAC), which currently governs Myanmar. Extraction of the ZIP-file shows that it is similar to campaign #5 and contains the earlier-discovered benign executable signed by CAM UnZip software in a folder called Adviser office. The files are named 01-11-2023 you _PDF_.pif and ZipDLL.dll. Upon execution of the PIF-file, the malicious DLL is side-loaded again similar to PUBLOAD and attempts to connect to the same C2 server as campaign #5 (45.154.24[.]14) using the known magic bytes In contrast to campaign #5, this sample does not attempt to stage Cobalt Strike. Similar to campaign #1, this DLL returns to spoofing the Host headers in HTTP traffic to communicate with the C2 server, spoofing the URLs http://wpstatic.microsoft.com and http://www.download.wndowsupdate.com.

To do so, it uses the familiar magic bytes 17 03 03 and verifies the presence of any known event objects before creating two directories, one at C:\Users\Admin\Documents\CAM Development\ and in %ProgramData%\UnZipCAM\. In the former, it places an encrypted INI-file named CUZ.ini. This INI-file is likely to contain the last execution date combined with a victim ID, according to Avast. Verifying the presence of known event objects is done in the same way as before, though this time the event object is named ChrisSanders. Moreover, a routine seems to be added that prints Start…Code_techspence before starting the function. 

Figure 7: Event Object conditional with the name ChrisSanders, shows creation of autorun key and techspence routine

Campaign #7 – meeting process.zip

The last observed campaign was created on January 16th and uploaded to VirusTotal on the same day from Myanmar. This is again a ZIP-file with a DLL-file to side-load and a benign executable signed by Silhouette Research & Technology Ltd with the original filename permissions.exe. The executable is disguised as a Microsoft Word file with a replaced icon and is named meeting process .exe (the space is repeated multiple times to hide the extension) and the DLL is called RBGUIFramework.dll. The DLL creates a file called preferences.ini in C:\Users\Public\ that is possibly similar to the previously found INI-file due to the size. It connects to a C2 server on 103.249.84[.]137 with the characterizing magic bytes present and Common Name WIN-9JJA076EVSS

After the verification for present command-line arguments, it creates a directory at C:\Users\Public\Libraries and moves the files in this directory. It then creates an autorun key with the name WindowsOfficeDoc, including the command line argument.

Figure 8: Executable is disguised as a Microsoft Office document, hiding the .EXE extension
\REGISTRY\USER\S-1-5-21-656384163-554681555-2882430073-1000\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\WindowsOfficeDoc = "C:\\Users\\Public\\Libraries\\meeting process .exe WindowsDoc"

Assessing Campaign Similarity

There is a great deal of similarity between the tactics and flow of execution between these campaigns. All campaigns leverage DLL Search Order Hijacking to stage malware in a near-identical way scattered across six different C2 servers for the seven campaigns. As mentioned, a significant portion of the campaigns comes from the same AS, running a certificate with the common name WIN-9JJA076EVSS. While the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) within these campaigns are nearly identical with a few different variants, it is valuable information to what extent the binaries are similar as this might influence the effectiveness of rule-based detection of this threat group. Below, two similarity matrices for strings and imports based on the Jaccard similarity index are displayed.

Figure 9: Similarity Matrix for string similarities between malicious DLLs
Figure 10: Similarity Matrix for import similarities between malicious DLLs

It is to be expected that the binaries do not have very high string similarity. After all, the actual strings in the malware are tailored for their target. However, adding the import similarity matrix shows that most samples have a high similarity in terms of imports. For example, Analysis of the third meeting of NDSC and ASEAN Notes exhibit a correlation coefficient of 0.96, indicating that they have a very high similarity in terms of imports. Using this matrix to set a threshold, it becomes possible to visualize which samples have a higher degree of similarity than others in this set. This results in the below graph.

What stands out is that when a Jaccard index threshold of 0.7 is handled, two subsets appear. This threshold represents a clear division between samples in the similarity matrices and also represents a significant similarity between samples. In particular the sample DLLs that did not have any variations or additional implementations such as Cobalt Strike or infostealers scored very high in import similarity. The same goes for the Control Flow Graphs resulting from these binaries. The samples can be assessed as related with moderate confidence due to the high similarity in imports, control flow and TTPs.

Figure 11: Sample subsets consisting of similar samples above the 0.7 Jaccard index threshold


In addition to the two campaigns discussed in the previous blog, five additional campaigns have been discovered. All these campaigns have been assessed to be likely related to the Stately Taurus threat group operating on an agenda aligning with Chinese geopolitical interest. We have found multiple variants of the PUBLOAD malware in this research extension of which some variants used Cobalt Strike rather than PlugX and some that contained infostealers. Even though the samples deviate, there are multiple observations that indicate that these campaigns are related. A very strong indicator are the titles, in particular a title referencing the ongoing rebel attacks in Myanmar. Other indicators include known infrastructure IOCs such as certificate Common Names, (shared) IP addresses and a significant portion of shared code that can be related back to previous campaigns. The variability in the samples, however, might affect the ability of security teams to detect this threat group based on IOCs only. Therefore, it is recommended to adequately monitor assets for suspicious activity.

Indicators of Compromise

C2 address45.121.146[.]113
C2 address61.4.102[.]75
C2 address45.154.24[.]14
C2 address103.249.84[.]137
Spoofed Host headerwpstatic.microsoft.com
Spoofed Host headerwww.download.wndowsupdate.com
Magic Bytes17 03 03
Certificate Common NameWIN-9JJA076EVSS
Cobalt Strike User Agent“Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; mobile! telephone; https://mobile.bing.com/search)”
Shan(north) – 11-09-2023.zip3a6887963920c8bc1ae35fdca69af2c0865f8b5c6ef90b4db91fa152bc56050d
Country at risk of breaking apart due to clashes.exefa7ad2f45128120bccc33f996f87a81faa2e9c1236666dd69b943a755f332eb1
Country at risk of breaking apart due to clashes.pdf879d99081510b6bbf1df105bca85087edadcc3b235fb1e358194892cae2b034f
Report – 11-09-23.exefa7ad2f45128120bccc33f996f87a81faa2e9c1236666dd69b943a755f332eb1
KeyScramblerIE.dll (Campaign #3)b300afb993b501aca5b727b1c964810345cfa5b032f5774251a2570a3ae16995
KeyScramblerIE.dll (Campaign #4)8f3a36aaa55f54ae4e665a3c4213dec1f16912bf5ed2f0ff5ff9d08a84a451a6
Talking Points for China.zip3adf6df9bfc377a762f4cebe9e5b5e7d7a823de03f6bfe8efa8ed5473ce10bc1
Talking Points for China.exefa7ad2f45128120bccc33f996f87a81faa2e9c1236666dd69b943a755f332eb1
ZipDLL.dll (Campaign #5)6811e4b244a0f5c9fac6f8c135fcfff48940e89a33a5b21a552601c2bceb4614
Message to the SAC Office.zip536f55acdb6393d8bf9976cc3ba1e64280c8f8c26463a139354e53991dd87745
01-11-2023 yyo PDF.pif5a61ff42ca850ba08f835e3a960d87450c2d6557f5fa65dd006c00eda1ab45a3
ZipDLL.dll (Campaign #6)6c90df591f638134db3b48ff1fd7111c366ec069c69ae28ee60d5cdd36408c02
meeting process.zipedb0025d79d00839cc52d6b750d845c37ffd5a882c81e7979e2594a7f6c6d361
meeting process .exe01273b6bb129a54d59e91c389a71add9892d392ea5f145169ae628ec99eda935
Malware drop location%ProgramData%\QFXSoftware
Malware drop location%ProgramData%\QFXSoftwarePubKey
Malware drop location%ProgramData%\CAMDevelopment
Malware drop location%ProgramData%\UnZipCAM
Autorun keyAKkeydobe
Autorun keyWindowsOfficeDoc
Unique string14b0a22e33df6fab9
Unique string243503098e6d85bd3367b2e25e144954e88d9a0b
Unique stringn9243503098e6d85bd3367b2e25e144954e88d9a0b
Unique stringbd3367b2e25e144954e88d9a0b3503098e6d85bd3367b2e25e
Unique string144954e88d9a0b
Unique stringJeffreyEpsteindocumentsunsealed
Unique stringChrisSanders