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    Lazarus Group’s Mata Framework Leveraged To Deploy TFlower Ransomware

    August 1, 2021

    Over the past few years, North Korea has turned its offensive cyber operations into a major source of income. On February 17, 2021, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has indicted additional three North Korean (DPRK) military Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) personnel, with participating in a cyber-attacks that has allegedly  included destructive cyber-attacks and the theft and extortion of over USD1.3bn.

    The charges filed relate to Lazarus Group’s (also known as Hidden Cobra) long-running cyber apparatus, financial theft and extortion, including multiple extortion schemes, WannaCry malware and the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures. A key technical component associated with Lazarus is the MATA malware framework, an advanced cross-platform malware framework, which was reported by Kaspersky on July 22, 2020, and by Netlab on December 19, 2019.

    In a recent double extortion ransomware attack investigated by Sygnia, the threat actor leveraged a new and so far undocumented variant of MATA. This MATA variant was used by the threat actor to distribute and execute the TFlower ransomware.

    When put together, the Netlab and Kaspersky publications along with the recent Sygnia findings, the new research indicates a connection or collaboration between the Lazarus Group and TFlower. While the nature of this collaboration is not yet clear and needs to be further validated, it may reflect the continues effort by North Korea to scale its cyber extortion business, as a major source  for currency generation, including by collaborating with additional crime entities, creating such entities, “outsourcing” of capabilities, or selling of offensive tools to other groups.

    This report details the connection between the North Korean MATA framework and TFlower, as well as the anatomy of the MATA backdoor and a wider threat research which revealed over 200 MATA malware framework C2 certificates leveraged since May of 2019 across over 150 IP addresses. The report also includes recommendation on detection and defending against MATA framework attacks.


    1. TFlower leverages or has ties to the MATA malware framework

    The MATA backdoor was leveraged to deploy the TFlower ransomware. The threat group consistently referred to themselves as the “TFlower group”.

    2. The MATA malware framework is active and widespread

    Since at least May of 2019, MATA operators have continuously utilized new servers, with over 150 IPs linked to the frameworks’ C2. The analysis indicates that the group has possibly deployed over 150 command and control servers over time, with the latest one identified on February 4, 2021.

    3. The threat actor is highly capable and implements systematic detection evasion techniques

    Throughout the attack, the threat actor leveraged multiple tools including the MATA backdoor to systematically clear forensic evidence and attempt to evade detection by identifying and tampering with security products.


    The Backdoor

    The MATA backdoor consists of three file components: .EXE, .DLL and .DAT files, deployed in the “C:\Windows\System32” directory. All file names and hashes are unique per infected host indicating automatically generated polymorphic malware. The components are as follows:

    1. Initial loader (EXE) — The malware is initially loaded by a .EXE file, which upon execution injects the .DLL loader component into an ‘svchost.exe’ process and modifies the LSA Security Package registry key to achieve persistence.

    2. Loader (DLL) — The loader decrypts and executes the payload component stored in the .DAT file. It is loaded by ‘lsass.exe’ upon reboot to achieve persistence.

    3. Payload (DAT) — The payload is an encrypted binary .DAT file which implements the backdoor functionality.

    Once deployed, the backdoor provides the threat actor with remote code execution capability on infected machines via C2 servers. Additional functionality includes screen capture and network traffic tunneling.


    The backdoor is deployed by executing the initial loader with the .DLL and .DAT file paths as arguments, injecting the .DLL file into ‘svchost.exe’ and loading the .DAT payload. The initial loader’s file name consists of 5 alphabetic characters, randomly generated on each of the machines (‘[A-Za-z]{5}\.exe’).

    Upon execution, the initial loader modifies the following registry value in order to achieve persistency: “HKLM\SYSTEM\ CurrentControlSet\Control\Lsa\Security Packages”. The value modified is part of a Windows API called ‘Security Support Provider’ (SSP), which is used to extend the Windows authentication mechanism. After adding a .DLL stored in System32 to the ‘Security Packages’ value, ‘lsass.exe’ will automatically load the .DLL component on system startup or the next time the AddSecurityPackage Windows API function is called.

    The file name of the .DLL consists of six alphabetic characters, the middle two being “nm” matching the following pattern: ‘[A-Za-z]{2}nm[A-Za-z]{2}\.dll’. Similar to the .EXE component, the name is unique on each of the infected machines. The .DLL itself implements limited functionality, and its main purpose is decrypting, loading and executing the final payload stored in the .DAT file.

    The final payload stored in the .DAT file is a fully functional backdoor, establishing a command and control channel to the threat actors’ servers. Similarly to the other components, its name was unique on each of the infected machines and followed a specific pattern: ‘srms-[A-Za-z]{3}[0-9]{4,5}\.dat’.

    Execution Flow: From initial execution to persistence mechanism.


    Each of the samples identified by the Sygnia Incident Response team attempted to communicate to three command and control servers over SSL using port 443. The C2 servers were found in an encrypted binary configuration blob hardcoded into the .DAT payload. Each of the servers hosted a unique certificate, self-signed by the threat actor. Although the certificates on each of the servers were unique, they all shared similar technical features:

    1. Randomly generated, long Common Name.
    2. The usage of three capital letters followed by 'Co .Ltd' in the Organization (O) and Organization Unit (OU) fields of both issuer and subject.
    3. Certificate serial number – 1000.
    4. The “Validity: Not Before” timestamps of certificates tied to the same sample, are in close time proximity to one another. The “Validity: Not Before” timestamps represent the start of the certificate validity period.
    Certificate Details: Example of malicious MATA C2 certificate.

    The certificate “Validity: Not Before” timestamp is especially interesting, because the samples were first deployed in the network just several hours after the “Validity: Not Before” timestamp of their corresponding certificates. This could indicate that C2 servers are dynamically deployed for a specific operation, and the certificates are issued accordingly.

    To further validate the ties between the MATA framework and the suspicious certificates, we attempted to tie other confirmed command and control servers to similar certificates. Out of 20 IPs found across 8 samples found in online repositories, 18 were confirmed to have historically hosted certificates with similar patterns.

    MATA Samples: Relations between MATA samples and the identified certificates.

    Using the unique certificate patterns, Sygnia identified over 200 certificates and over 130 IP addresses affiliated with the MATA framework, starting as early as 2019.

    Further analysis identified that as of June, 2020 the threat actor slightly modified the self-signed certificates pattern. Specifically, the following was changed:

    1. Organization (O) and Organization Unit (OU) fields of both issuer and subject were changed to five random uppercase alphabetical characters instead of three.
    2. Legitimate Common Name values such as ‘’, ‘’ and ‘’ were used instead of the random strings previously used.

    At the time of publication, the latest certificates found were issued on February 4, 2021. The large number of certificates and C2 servers deployed over such a prolonged period of time suggests a well-resourced group with robust operational capabilities, likely attacking multiple targets simultaneously.


    The backdoor and its infrastructure share significant attributes with the MATA malware framework:

    • Over 95% of the functions in the .DLL loader component identified by Sygnia match functions in the MATA malware framework loader identified by Kaspersky, indicating they are closely related.
    • The .DAT payload component identified by Sygnia writes its encrypted configuration to a registry key with a naming pattern of “HKLM\Software\Microsoft\[A-Za-z]{3}Net”. The orchestrator instances identified by Kaspersky save their configuration in a registry key with the same naming convention. The unencrypted configuration contains similar data to that mentioned in the Kaspersky report.
    • The same SSL certificate pattern described above was also identified in SSL certificates served by 21 out of 31 MATA framework C2 IP addresses found within MATA framework malware samples reported by Netlab and Kaspersky.
    • Certificates for IPs embedded in samples identified by Netlab and Kaspersky were issued within a short timeframe. This indicates the C2 servers for each of the samples were deployed together. The same behavior was observed in the samples identified by Sygnia.

    Several other vendors, including Kaspersky and Netlab, linked the MATA framework to the Lazarus group, a threat actor affiliated with the North Korean government.

    The MATA certificates “Validity: Not Before” timestamps are potentially indicative of the threat actor's work week, Monday to Saturday, as no certificates were issued on Sunday. Furthermore, no certificates were issued between 16:00 to 22:00 UTC, correlating with nighttime in UTC +9 or UTC +8 time zones. The vast majority of certificates were issued during working hours in the abovementioned time zones, suggesting the threat actor is most likely operating from East-Asia.

    A histogram of certificates’ “Validity: Not Before” timestamps: showing the total number of certificates issued by hour in the day in a UTC+9 time zone.


    The TFlower ransomware campaign was covered by several technology news websites between September and November of 2019. However, since then very little information has been made public about the ransomware group or its operations.

    In a recent TFlower ransomware case investigated by Sygnia, the threat actors had already removed all instances of the ransomware executable and it could not be recovered for reverse engineering. Nevertheless, forensic analysis performed identified several technical indications linking the encryption with the TFlower group with high certainty.

    Analysis of the encrypted machines identified that the ransomware executable was deployed and executed using the MATA backdoor. Specifically, the path to the ransomware executable was found within the MATA backdoor memory space on encrypted machines. This raises the possibility that the Lazarus Group, which is largely affiliated with the North Korean government, is either the group behind TFlower or has some level of collaboration with it.

    Alternatively, and although there are significant similarities to the TFlower ransomware, it is still possible that the threat actor was only masquerading as the TFlower group.

    The ransomware encrypted files throughout the filesystem, without appending any special file extension. The “*TFlower” string was prepended to the encrypted files.
    The ransom note left on the machines affected by the ransomware was named “!_Notice_!.txt”. The ransom note itself is identical to ransom notes identified in previous TFlower attacks.


    The research into MATA framework operations was done primarily in the service of preventing future attacks. Our understanding of the threat actors behind these malicious operations reveals a large dynamic operation which can prove difficult to contain or easily detect.

    The following are specific tactical recommendations which compliment more general security measures that can protect against these types of an attacks:

    • Configure Process Protected Light (PPL) protection to prevent non-digitally signed LSA plugins to be loaded into the lsass.exe process.
    • Proactively hunt for MATA malware framework IOCs and TTPs within the network, based on the MITRE ATT&CK breakdown and IOC provided below, with emphasis on the following:
    • SSL traffic containing a self-signed certificate with the attributes described in the report.
    • Outbound network communications towards the internet originating from the lsass.exe process
    • Monitor for disabling of security products and log source tampering.



    - Registry Key: “HKLM\\Software\\Microsoft\\[A-Za-z]{3}Net”

    • Registry Value Name: (default)
    • Registry Value Type: “REG_BINARY”
    • Registry Value Data: encrypted binary data

    - Registry Key: “HKLM\\System\\CurrentControlSet\\control\\LSA”

    • Registry Value Name: “Security Packages”
    • Registry Value Type: “REG_MULTI_SZ”
    • Registry Value Data: “[A-Za-z]{2}nm[A-Za-z]{2}”


    - .EXE file component – “C:\\Windows\\System32\\[A-Za-z]{5}\.exe”

    • Highly susceptible to false positives

    - .DLL file component – “C:\\Windows\\System32\\[A-Za-z]{2}nm[A-Za-z]{2}\.dll”

    - .DAT file component – “C:\\Windows\\System32\\srms\-[A-Za-z]{3}\d+\.dat”


    • cef99063e85af8b065de0ffa9d26cb03
    • 6de65fc57a4428ad7e262e980a7f6cc7
    • 8910bdaaa6d3d40e9f60523d3a34f914
    • bea49839390e4f1eb3cb38d0fcaf897e
    • 80c0efb9e129f7f9b05a783df6959812
    • 403ad5ef66f3932e548e29e1b6a2cb4f
    • f05437d510287448325bac98a1378de1
    • 22a968beda8a033eb31ae175b7e0a937


    IP Address Common Name “Validity: Not Before” Timestamp Organization Org. Unit Serial SHA1
             2019-05-08T14:47:45Z OVL Co. Ltd IDQ Co. Ltd 1000 4fddb38848d0a3043d173653ee5d65a034fa5261 2019-05-08T15:02:01Z WRK Co. Ltd SVA Co. Ltd 1000 4e8c2bbdac96d4df6555df6f219e2a19e4d63046 2019-05-08T15:04:25Z DKT Co. Ltd MAO Co. Ltd 1000 64b628db142ee03dc99f498bc3de017dd1f96ace 2019-05-08T15:06:18Z KIJ Co. Ltd HVO Co. Ltd 1000 90a6731fcc1bf18eb47db4a2b8e09a1a4157ea27 2019-05-08T15:13:25Z NPP Co. Ltd JKW Co. Ltd 1000 61ebfbf45dd7360811b8fd1be367cd714d3bf1b3 2019-05-08T15:15:22Z FRK Co. Ltd OET Co. Ltd 1000 91d4c3ed4336b4898be1825f8769356e1d94042c 2019-05-08T15:17:38Z QYZ Co. Ltd TFJ Co. Ltd 1000 e9f88241ead0a454c5405de92071f5b4cb3e36e9 2019-05-08T23:34:51Z MFO Co. Ltd RRJ Co. Ltd 1000 c1b5e79e754de08d680beeb5cacee9603c62b677 2019-05-08T23:36:37Z KMT Co. Ltd MZX Co. Ltd 1000 78cb2ff0073f15c6f70f8fb5c2aa6360b9a3e958 2019-05-11T00:10:59Z BMC Co. Ltd EJV Co. Ltd 1000 9b3efb423d54fc96e8b5565262ffc5dbda0e72fe 2019-05-11T00:12:03Z ZID Co. Ltd DAZ Co. Ltd 1000 b4042f03686336d130527aea3d4e8e66f1c29131 2019-05-11T00:12:27Z RZF Co. Ltd WSR Co. Ltd 1000 0a3c2caa5332916025311cc7bd8eabd7b8dcb4f6 2019-05-11T00:12:49Z FHE Co. Ltd III Co. Ltd 1000 ac9645de8cfc41c88bf313833f9933480f0cf69f 2019-05-18T06:27:03Z WSA Co. Ltd VNT Co. Ltd 1000 6ee218365ec9ff17eb0cdb460e050d8c612244c7 2019-05-18T06:27:21Z AVW Co. Ltd WIN Co. Ltd 1000 b138f782e23bc07d239005cd9685441657ae3406 2019-05-18T06:27:40Z KOK Co. Ltd AAN Co. Ltd 1000 e9321bdc979ae55a60e677c9ea8e0e17f0e722de 2019-06-10T00:24:51Z MGA Co. Ltd BTH Co. Ltd 1000 8384997d8a807c34a15a81c3eeb58560de2816b0 2019-06-10T13:45:34Z KTB Co. Ltd IIS Co. Ltd 1000 fde0767ca94148a1beaf3e3184b919631f38b5c9 2019-06-13T08:10:38Z SCB Co. Ltd KUA Co. Ltd 1000 7faf0d0f46ea2698b88daea588775b744fd95cd4 2019-07-01T03:09:46Z BUR Co. Ltd VGA Co. Ltd 1000 9f71d3a47cba2dacff5da07e60177d9e0b54439e 2019-07-01T03:10:19Z INK Co. Ltd TRK Co. Ltd 1000 45f2465cc4d8157e41c487dd8e8b0122e132032c 2019-07-01T03:10:42Z YWX Co. Ltd MFA Co. Ltd 1000 7c1ce4cb7776cad28500630d814e08619b665c66 2019-07-02T00:22:01Z JWA Co. Ltd OHC Co. Ltd 1000 bfde0d8d8c1303b6cc661a6bc269fd222292d170 2019-07-30T06:58:25Z LHL Co. Ltd YTF Co. Ltd 1000 fb2f3ffd2ac88dd62876159d155ba717c139cf11 2019-07-30T06:58:47Z EJW Co. Ltd RYT Co. Ltd 1000 471e268f24b938c8bdaa6479696066c435b14ceb 2019-07-30T07:02:19Z XHQ Co. Ltd OWZ Co. Ltd 1000 c39fa61ef4210f6726fb2b8f775baa3efe655c67 2019-07-31T06:22:39Z RBJ Co. Ltd PIL Co. Ltd 1000 eb847b373aa9284a2207800bf3b0c7a4a4ed999c 2019-07-31T06:32:31Z LVV Co. Ltd ZQU Co. Ltd 1000 45f62d44f95a2b520b9542209c9394678de084f1 2019-08-01T04:33:32Z PVP Co. Ltd QIR Co. Ltd 1000 66209d6585aa2ad80b71a20309b19f5f0f2f102b 2019-08-06T07:45:16Z CCO Co. Ltd HFQ Co. Ltd 1000 ed96ea65fc7d34ed0a782788382e167bc7123d14 2019-08-06T07:45:38Z MYD Co. Ltd XOR Co. Ltd 1000 15c96db7785d5e6866e2dc041b6ce98f136c47b6 2019-08-07T08:00:13Z AIZ Co. Ltd QZA Co. Ltd 1000 a64b42eefc9b08ac06b5fb40ec4a3a8a76800c3f 2019-08-07T08:15:14Z GNL Co. Ltd UPF Co. Ltd 1000 5360a98e4282da4206d35e840df8cf33cd9e965f 2019-08-08T01:19:52Z OVL Co. Ltd GGJ Co. Ltd 1000 7c08dc40e773bc4b8cc9b407777769822c20dfed 2019-08-08T01:24:20Z SDO Co. Ltd CIB Co. Ltd 1000 0b189512af2b498fac0bdce31c386d2b6c55fc97 2019-08-08T01:24:47Z SBY Co. Ltd RET Co. Ltd 1000 1d5f886442d231b10fe68894d74bec4bfdcdfe5f 2019-08-09T13:44:14Z FIY Co. Ltd MRT Co. Ltd 1000 c7137530011eb2d0fcaba4f14ba695e4b9c65f25 2019-08-10T02:11:10Z TIU Co. Ltd CGP Co. Ltd 1000 d44c7ed99abd47db577fbfd10d8018b6301f22a2 2019-08-10T02:24:38Z HFQ Co. Ltd BXJ Co. Ltd 1000 f84213fd940f019505e58a79218b9a17543fa3e4 2019-08-23T13:20:06Z XLP Co. Ltd CTB Co. Ltd 1000 cad779915537cfed7c37abf5b143be793c9db6f2 2019-08-24T03:53:29Z EYF Co. Ltd UFF Co. Ltd 1000 5d0dc50f102bc9ced23e05f53b4b5e83f7dcdb60 2019-08-26T02:27:33Z CSJ Co. Ltd WKN Co. Ltd 1000 55207654884899dece889e452697492e66a2664f,, 2019-08-30T03:46:47Z AYT Co. Ltd DCI Co. Ltd 1000 caec7c0a802e4de75a671327a9a68a2a7e55936d, 2019-09-03T00:56:01Z PVP Co. Ltd NEN Co. Ltd 1000 a4463133c2ec834d92f513c9724afdf15b6003dd 2019-09-20T09:31:27Z BMB Co. Ltd RLC Co. Ltd 1000 8730613623c457bb19f72acc27b06b509658367d 2019-09-20T13:43:28Z ZZC Co. Ltd UOH Co. Ltd 1000 3ce1f8ace1a954a28d9ad7c45624cbab78dd4ce1 2019-09-20T13:47:08Z EML Co. Ltd PKM Co. Ltd 1000 febb999755a880203e8452fd5ba57d9ae68f6604 2019-09-30T00:38:09Z LLN Co. Ltd LYG Co. Ltd 1000 d18ff190c769cf2bcf32a5b0237af02fdc2d646d 2020-02-12T00:09:54Z TJB Co. Ltd BKQ Co. Ltd 1000 0d5cab6893e98032518d7faf962197daf4cd00e6 2020-02-19T11:04:18Z HLR Co. Ltd IVP Co. Ltd 1000 249d865fe438695d5872191e17c4bbd48af1e2a9 2020-02-19T11:36:19Z DWV Co. Ltd LZW Co. Ltd 1000 19b6ad2fdf309c1090c772e8e245a92abd7317e7 2020-02-19T12:46:59Z DRU Co. Ltd FUN Co. Ltd 1000 3e7fdd91198b48f0eae86f51ab845e7974dd454e 2020-02-19T12:47:19Z WGE Co. Ltd UOH Co. 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    Showing 1 to 158 of 158 entries


    1. Persistence

    • T1053.005 - Scheduled Task/Job: Scheduled Task
    • T1547.005 - Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Security Support Provider

    2. Defense Evasion

    • T1036.005 - Masquerading: Match Legitimate Name or Location
    • T1055.001 - Process Injection: Dynamic-link Library Injection  
    • T1070.001 - Indicator Removal on Host: Clear Windows Event Logs
    • T1070.003 - Indicator Removal on Host: Clear Command History
    • T1070.004 - Indicator Removal on Host: File Deletion
    • T1112 - Modify Registry
    • T1562 - Impair Defenses

    3. Credential Access

    • T1552.001 - Unsecured Credentials: Credentials in Files

    4. Lateral Movement

    • T1021.001 - Remote Services: Remote Desktop Protocol
    • T1021.002 - Remote Services: SMB/Windows Admin Shares
    • T1021.004 - Remote Services: SSH

    5. Collection

    • T1113 - Screen Capture

    6. Command and Control

    • T1008 - Fallback Channels
    • T1572 - Protocol Tunneling
    • T1573.001 - Encrypted Channel: Symmetric Cryptography

    7. Impact

    • T1486 - Data Encrypted for Impact

    Contributors: Amitai Ben Shushan, Noam Lifshitz, Amnon Kushnir, Martin Korman and Boaz Wasserman.

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