Remove Tonedeaf Backdoor Malware

Remove Tonedeaf Backdoor Malware

A new malicious attack has been detected, distributing a form of very dangerous malware which researchers dubbed Tonedeaf. The Tonedeaf malware is in fact a sophisticated backdoor which communicates with a specific command and control server via HTTP GET and POST requests.

The Tonedeaf backdoor is capable of collecting system information, uploading and downloading files, and arbitrary shell command execution, FireEye researchers explained in their report.

The Tonedeaf malware campaign is operated by a group known as APT34, an Iran-linked APT group that has been active since at least 2014. The group has been known to target organizations in the financial, government, energy, telecommunication, and chemical sectors, primarily in the United States and Middle Eastern territories.

According to the report, APT34 is relying heavily on their PowerShell development capabilities but is also trying to include Golang, a statically typed, compiled programming language designed at Google.

Threat Summary

NameTonedeaf Backdoor
TypeBackdoor, Spyware
Short DescriptionThe Tonedeaf backdoor is capable of collecting system information, uploading and downloading files, and arbitrary shell command execution.
Distribution MethodA phishing campaign spread on LinkedIn.
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Tonedeaf Backdoor – Distribution Techniques

The malware has been spread via a phishing campaign conducted by APT34. The phishing messages are made to look like they have been sent by a member of Cambridge University, and have been spread on LinkedIn to deliver the malicious payload. More specifically, in this campaign, fake profiles got in contact with targeted victims and asked them to open a malicious Excel file named ERFT-Details.xls that played the role of a dropper.

The messages sent over LinkedIn looked like messages from the “Research Staff at University of Cambridge” with their topic involving resumes for potential job opportunities. In fact, this technique is not unique and has been observed in multiple campaigns. For example, a phishing scam from 2017 was trying to trick users of the professional network to upload their CVs. Scammers were sending emails about alleged “job openings for active LinkedIn users”.

Related: Job Openings for Active LinkedIn Users Phishing Scam Detected

Tonedeaf Backdoor – Malicious Capabilities

Tonedeaf is a backdoor that communicates with a command and control server via HTTP GET and POST requests. The malware is capable of collecting system information, uploading and downloading files, and arbitrary shell command execution.

When executed, the Tonedeaf backdoor writes encrypted data to two temporary files – temp.txt and temp2.txt – within the same directory of its execution.

FireEye has identified offlineearthquake[.]com as a potential command and control domain of the operation.
Requests to the domain offlineearthquake[.]com could be carried out in different forms, in accordance with the malware’s stage of installation and purpose. In addition, Tonedeaf can retrieve the system and current user names, which are used to create a three-character sys_id, the report noted. This value is used in subsequent requests, most probably done to track infected target activity.

It is noteworthy that the Tonedeaf backdoor is not the only malware being distributed in this campaign, as FireEye detected “two additional new malware families hosted at this domain, ValueVault and Longwatch”. The researchers also identified a variant of Pickpocket, a browser credential-theft tool which was hosted on the command and control server.

What is ValueVault? A Golang-compiled version of the Windows Vault Password Dumper browser credential theft tool developed by Massimiliano Montoro, the developer of Cain & Abel. The tool has the same functionality as the original tool, and allows the threat actor to extract and view credentials stored in the Windows Vault. The tool also employs Windows PowerShell to extract browser history to match browser passwords with visited websites.

What is Longwatch? LongWatch is a keylogger that outputs keystrokes to a log.txt file in the Windows temp folder.

What is Pickpocket? It is a credential theft tool that dumps the victim’s website login credentials from several browsers (Chrome, Firefox, and IE) to a file.

The Tonedeaf backdoor is currently targeting organizations in the following sectors – energy and utilities, government, and oil and gas. However, the backdoor may also be utilized in large-scale campaigns, so protecting the operating system against such threats is highly advisable.


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Milena Dimitrova

An inspired writer and content manager who has been with SensorsTechForum for 4 years. Enjoys ‘Mr. Robot’ and fears ‘1984’. Focused on user privacy and malware development, she strongly believes in a world where cybersecurity plays a central role. If common sense makes no sense, she will be there to take notes. Those notes may later turn into articles! Follow Milena @Milenyim

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