If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you already know about how strongly I feel about the dangers of spreading fake news, disinformation and misinformation. 

And honestly, if you’re reading this newsletter, I probably shouldn’t have to tell you about that either. But one of the things that always frustrates me about this seemingly never-ending battle against disinformation on the internet, is that there aren’t any real consequences for the worst offenders. 

At most, someone who intentionally or repeatedly shares information on their social platform that’s misleading or downright false may have their account blocked, suspended or deleted, or just that one individual post might be removed.  

Twitter, which has become one of the worst offenders for spreading disinformation, has gotten even worse about this over the past few years and at this point doesn’t do anything to these accounts, and in fact, even promotes them in many ways and gives them a larger platform. 

Meta, for its part, is now hiding more political posts on its platforms in some countries, but at most, an account that shares fake news is only going to be restricted if enough people report it to Meta’s team and they choose to take action.  

Now, I’m hoping that Brazil’s Supreme Court may start imposing some real-world consequences on individuals and companies that support, endorse or sit idly by while disinformation spreads. Specifically, I’m talking about a newly launched investigation by the court into Twitter/X and its owner, Elon Musk.  

Brazil’s Supreme Court says users on the platform are part of a massive misinformation campaign against the court’s justices, sharing intentionally false or harmful information about them. Musk is also facing a related investigation into alleged obstruction.  

The court had previously asked Twitter to block certain far-right accounts that were spreading fake news on Twitter, seemingly one of the only true permanent bans on a social media platform targeting the worst misinformation offenders. Recently, Twitter has declined to block those accounts. 

This isn’t some new initiative, though. Brazil’s government has long looked for concrete ways to implement real-world punishments for spreading disinformation. In 2022, the Supreme Court signed an agreement with the equivalent of Brazil’s national election commission “to combat fake news involving the judiciary and to disseminate information about the 2022 general elections.” 

Brazil’s president (much like the U.S.) has been battling fake news and disinformation for years now, making any political conversation there incredibly divisive, and in many ways, physically dangerous. I’m certainly not an authority enough on the subject to comment on that and the ways in which the term “fake news” has been weaponized to literally challenge what is “fact” in our modern society.  

And I could certainly see a world in which a high court uses the term “fake news” to charge and prosecute people who are, in fact, spreading *correct* and verifiable information.  

But, even just forcing Musk or anyone at Twitter to answer questions about their blocking policies could bring an additional layer of transparency to this process. Suppose we want to really get people to stop sharing misleading information on social media. In that case, it needs to eventually come with real consequences, not just a simple block when they can launch a new account two seconds later using a different email address. 

The one big thing 

Talos recently discovered a new threat actor we're calling “Starry Addax” targeting mostly human rights activists associated with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) cause. Starry Addax primarily uses a new mobile malware that it infects users with via phishing attack, tricking their targets into installing malicious Android applications we’re calling “FlexStarling.” The malicious mobile application (APK), “FlexStarling,” analyzed by Talos recently masquerades as a variant of the Sahara Press Service (SPSRASD) App. 

Why do I care? 

The targets in this campaign's case are considered high-risk individuals, advocating for human rights in the Western Sahara. While that is a highly focused particular demographic, FlexStarling is still a highly capable implant that could be dangerous if used in other campaigns. Once infected, Starry Addax can use their malware to steal important login credentials, execute remote code or infect the device with other malware.  

So now what? 

This campaign's infection chain begins with a spear-phishing email sent to targets, consisting of individuals of interest to the attackers, especially human rights activists in Morocco and the Western Sahara region. If you are a user who feels you could be targeted by these emails, please pay close attention to any URLs or attachments used in emails with these themes and ensure you’re only visiting trusted sites. The timelines connected to various artifacts used in the attacks indicate that this campaign is just starting and may be in its nascent stages with more infrastructure and Starry Addax working on additional malware variants. 

Top security headlines of the week 

A threat actor with ties to Russia is suspected of infecting the network belonging to a rural water facility in Texas earlier this year. The hack in the small town of Muleshoe, Texas in January caused a water tower to overflow. The suspect attack coincided with network intrusions against networks belonging to two other nearby towns. While the attack did not disrupt drinking water in the town, it would mark an escalation in Russian APTs’ efforts to spy on and disrupt American critical infrastructure. Security researchers this week linked a Telegram channel that took credit for the activity with a group connected to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The adversaries broke into a remote login system used in ICS, which allowed the actors to interact with the water tank. It overflowed for about 30 to 45 minutes before officials took the machine offline and switched to manual operations. According to reporting from CNN, a nearby town called Lockney detected “suspicious activity” on the town’s SCADA system. And in Hale Center, adversaries also tried to breach the town network’s firewall, which prompted them to disable remote access to its SCADA system. (CNN, Wired

Meanwhile, Russia’s Sandworm APT is also accused of being the primary threat actor carrying out Russia’s goals in Ukraine. New research indicates that the group is responsible for nearly all disruptive and destructive cyberattacks in Ukraine since Russia's invasion in February 2022. One attack involved Sandworm, aka APT44, disrupting a Ukrainian power facility during Russia’s winter offensive and a series of drone strikes targeting Ukraine’s energy grid. Recently, the group’s attacks have increasingly focused on espionage activity to gather information for Russia’s military to use to its advantage on the battlefield. The U.S. indicated several individuals for their roles with Sandworm in 2020, but the group has been active for more than 10 years. Researchers also unmasked a Telegram channel the group appears to be using, called “CyberArmyofRussia_Reborn.” They typically use the channel to post evidence from their sabotage activities. (Dark Reading, Recorded Future

Security experts and government officials are bracing for an uptick in offensive cyber attacks between Israel and Iran after Iran launched a barrage of drones and missiles at Israel. Both countries have dealt with increased tensions recently, eventually leading to the attack Saturday night. Israel’s leaders have already been considering various responses to the attack, among which could be cyber attacks targeting Iran in addition to any new kinetic warfare. Israel and Iran have long had a tense relationship that included covert operations and destructive cyberattacks. Experts say both countries have the ability to launch wiper malware, ransomware and cyber attacks against each other, some of which could interrupt critical infrastructure or military operations. The increased tensions have also opened the door to many threat actors taking claims for various cyber attacks or intrusions that didn’t happen. (Axios, Foreign Policy

Can’t get enough Talos? 

Upcoming events where you can find Talos 

 Botconf (April 23 - 26) 

Nice, Côte d'Azur, France

This presentation from Chetan Raghuprasad details the Supershell C2 framework. Threat actors are using this framework massively and creating botnets with the Supershell implants.

CARO Workshop 2024 (May 1 - 3) 

Arlington, Virginia

Over the past year, we’ve observed a substantial uptick in attacks by YoroTrooper, a relatively nascent espionage-oriented threat actor operating against the Commonwealth of Independent Countries (CIS) since at least 2022. Asheer Malhotra's presentation at CARO 2024 will provide an overview of their various campaigns detailing the commodity and custom-built malware employed by the actor, their discovery and evolution in tactics. He will present a timeline of successful intrusions carried out by YoroTrooper targeting high-value individuals associated with CIS government agencies over the last two years.

RSA (May 6 - 9) 

San Francisco, California    

Most prevalent malware files from Talos telemetry over the past week 

This section will be on a brief hiatus while we work through some technical difficulties.