Authored by: Nikolaos Totosis, Nikolaos Pantazopoulos and Mike Stokkel
BUMBLEBEE is a new malicious loader that is being used by several threat actors and has been observed to download different malicious samples. The key points are:
- BUMBLEBEE is statically linked with the open-source libraries OpenSSL 1.1.0f, Boost (version 1.68). In addition, it is compiled using Visual Studio 2015.
- BUMBLEBEE uses a set of anti-analysis techniques. These are taken directly from the open-source project .
- BUMBLEBEE has Rabbort.DLL embedded, using it for process injection.
- BUMBLEBEE has been observed to download and execute different malicious payloads such as Cobalt Strike beacons.
In March 2022, Google’s Threat Analysis Group  published about a malware strain linked to Conti’s Initial Access Broker, known as BUMBLEBEE. BUMBLEBEE uses a comparable way of distribution that is overlapping with the typical BazarISO campaigns.
In the last months BUMBLEBEE, would use three different distribution methods:
- Distribution via ISO files, which are created either with StarBurn ISO or PowerISO software, and are bundled along with a LNK file and the initial payload.
- Distribution via OneDrive links.
- Email thread hijacking with password protected ZIP
BUMBLEBEE is currently under heavy development and has seen some small changes in the last few weeks. For example, earlier samples of BUMBLEBEE used the user-agent ‘bumblebee’ and no encryption was applied to the network data. However, this functionality has changed, and recent samples use a hardcoded key as user-agent which is also acting as the RC4 key used for the entire network communication process.
Most of the identified samples are protected with what appears to be a private crypter and has only been used for BUMBLEBEE binaries so far. This crypter uses an export function with name SetPath and has not implemented any obfuscation method yet (e.g. strings encryption).
The BUMBLEBEE payload starts off by performing a series of anti-analysis checks, which are taken directly from the open source Khasar project. After these checks passed, BUMBLEBEE proceeds with the command-and-control communication to receive tasks to execute.
BUMBLEBEE’s implemented network communication procedure is quite simple and straightforward. First, the loader picks an (command-and-control) IP address and sends a HTTPS GET request, which includes the following information in a JSON format (encrypted with RC4):
|client_id||A MD5 hash of a UUID value taken by executing the WMI command ‘SELECT * FROM Win32_ComputerSystemProduct’.|
|group_name||A hard-coded value, which represents the group that the bot (compromised host) will be added.|
|sys_version||Windows OS version|
|client_version||Default value that’s set to 1|
|domain_name||Domain name taken by executing the WMI command ‘SELECT * FROM Win32_ComputerSystem’.|
|task_state||Set to 0 by default. Used only when the network commands with task name ‘ins‘ or ‘sdl‘ are executed|
|task_id||Set to 0 by default. Used only when the network commands with task name ‘ins‘ or ‘sdl‘ are executed|
Once the server receives the request, it replies with the following data in a JSON format:
|response_status||Boolean value, which shows if the server correctly parsed the loader’s request. Set to 1 if successful.|
|tasks||Array containing all the tasks|
|task_id||ID of the received task, which is set by the operator(s)|
|task_data||Data for the loader to execute in Base64 encoded format|
|file_entry_point||Potentially represents an offset value. We have not observed this being used either in the binary’s code or during network communication (set to an empty string).|
Based on the returned tasks from the command-and-control servers, BUMBLEBEE will execute one of the tasks described below. For two of the tasks, shi and dij, BUMBLEBEE uses a list of predefined process images paths:
- C:\Program Files\Windows Photo Viewer\ImagingDevices.exe
- C:\Program Files\Windows Mail\wab.exe
- C:\Program Files\Windows Mail\wabmig.exe
|shi||Injects task’s data into a new process. The processes images paths described above and a random selection is made|
|dij||Injects task’s data into a new process. The injection method defers from the method used in task ‘dij’. The processes images paths described above and a random selection is made.|
|dex||Writes task’s data into a file named ‘wab.exe’ under the Windows in AppData folder.|
|sdl||Deletes loader’s binary from disk.|
|ins||Adds persistence to the compromised host.|
For the persistence mechanism, BUMBLEBEE creates a new directory in the Windows AppData folder with the directory’s name being derived by the client_id MD5 value. Next, BUMBLEBEE copies itself to its new directory and creates a new VBS file with the following content:
Set objShell = CreateObject("Wscript.Shell") objShell.Run "rundll32.exe my_application_path, IternalJob"
Lastly, it creates a scheduled task that has the following metadata (this can differ from sample to sample):
- Task name – Randomly generated. Up to 7 characters.
- Author – Asus
- Description – Video monitor
- Hidden from the UI: True
- Path: %WINDIR%\System32\wscript.exe VBS_Filepath
Similarly with the directory’ name, the new loader’s binary and VBS filenames are derived from the ‘client_id’ MD5 value too.
This sub-section contains notes that were collected during the analysis phase and worth to be mentioned too.
- The first iterations of BUMBLEBEE were observed in September 2021 and were using “/get_load” as URI. Later, the samples started using “/gate”. On 19th of April, they switched to “/gates”, replacing the previous URI.
- The “/get_load” endpoint is still active on the recent infrastructure – this is probably either for backwards compatibility or ignored by the operator(s). Besides this, most of the earlier samples using URI endpoint are uploaded from non-European countries.
- Considering that BUMBLEBEE is actively being developed on, the operator(s) did not implement a command to update the loader’s binary, resulting the loss of existing infections.
- It was found via server errors (during network requests and from external parties) that the backend is written in Golang.
- As mentioned above, every BUMBLEBEE binary has an embedded group tag. Currently, we have observed the following group tags:
- As additional payloads, NCC Group’s RIFT has observed mostly Cobalt Strike and Meterpeter being sent as tasks. However, third parties have confirmed the drop of Sliver and Bokbot payloads.
- While analyzing NCC Group’s RIFT had a case where the command-and-control server sent the same Meterpeter PE file in two different tasks in the same request to be executed. This is probably an attempt to ensure execution of the downloaded payload (Figure 1). There were also cases where the server initially replied with a Cobalt Strike beacon and then followed up with more than two additional payloads, both being Meterpeter.
- In one case, the downloaded Cobalt Strike beacon was executed in a sandbox environment and revealed the following commands and payloads were executed by the operator(s):
- net group “domain admins” /domain
- ipconfig /all
- netstat -anop tcp
- execution of Mimikatz
Indicators of compromise (IOC’s)
|IPv4||Meterpreter command-and-control server, linked to Group ID 2004r & 25html||23.108.57[.]13|
|IPv4||Meterpreter command-and-control server, linked to Group ID 2004r & 2504r||130.0.236[.]214|
|IPv4||Cobalt Strike server, linked to Group ID 1904r||93.95.229[.]160|
|IPv4||Cobalt Strike server, linked to Group ID 2004r||141.98.80[.]175|
|IPv4||Cobalt Strike server, linked to Group ID 2504r & 2704r||185.106.123[.]74|
|IPv4||BUMBLEBEE command-and-control servers||103.175.16[.]45|
 – https://github.com/LordNoteworthy/al-khaser
 – https://blog.google/threat-analysis-group/exposing-initial-access-broker-ties-conti/