BackdoorDiplomacy: Upgrading from Quarian to Turian

ESET researchers discover a brand new campaign that advanced from the Quarian backdoor

Government summary

An APT group that we are calling BackdoorDiplomacy, because of the most important vertical of its victims, has been concentrating on Ministries of Overseas Affairs and telecommunication corporations in Africa and the Middle East since at the least 2017. For preliminary an infection vectors, the group favors exploiting weak internet-uncovered units similar to net servers and administration interfaces for networking gear. Once on a system, its operators make use of open-supply instruments for scanning the surroundings and lateral movement. Interactive entry is achieved in two ways: (1) by way of a customized backdoor we’re calling Turian that is derived from the Quarian backdoor; and (2) in fewer situations, when extra direct and interactive access is required, certain open-supply remote entry instruments are deployed. In a number of situations, the group has been noticed concentrating on detachable media for knowledge collection and exfiltration. Lastly, both Home windows and Linux operating methods have been targeted.

Links with recognized groups

BackdoorDiplomacy shares commonalities with several other Asian groups. Most blatant amongst them is the connection between the Turian backdoor and the Quarian backdoor. Specific observations relating to the Turian-Quarian connection are recorded under within the Turian part. We consider this group can also be linked with a gaggle Kaspersky known as “CloudComputating” that was additionally analyzed by Sophos.

A number of victims have been compromised by way of mechanisms that intently matched the Rehashed Rat and a MirageFox-APT15 marketing campaign documented by Fortinet in 2017 and Intezer in 2018, respectively. The BackdoorDiplomacy operators made use of their specific type of DLL Search-Order Hijacking.

Lastly, the network encryption technique BackdoorDiplomacy uses is sort of just like a backdoor Dr.Net calls Backdoor.Whitebird.1. Whitebird was used to focus on government institutions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (each neighbors of a BackdoorDiplomacy victim in Uzbekistan) inside the similar 2017-to-present timeframe by which BackdoorDiplomacy has been lively.


Quarian was used to focus on the Syrian Ministry of Overseas Affairs in 2012, as well as the US State Department in 2013. This development of concentrating on Ministries of Overseas Affairs continues with Turian.

Victims have been discovered within the Ministries of Overseas Affairs of a number of African nations, in addition to in Europe, the Center East, and Asia. Further targets embrace telecommunication corporations in Africa, and a minimum of one Center Japanese charity. In every case, operators employed comparable techniques, methods, and procedures (TTPs), but modified the instruments used, even inside close geographic areas, more likely to make monitoring the group harder. See Determine 1 for a map of victims by nation and vertical.

Determine 1. Victims by country and vertical

Assault vectors

BackdoorDiplomacy focused servers with web-uncovered ports, doubtless exploiting unpatched vulnerabilities or poorly enforced file-upload security. In one specific instance, we noticed the operators exploit an F5 BIP-IP vulnerability (CVE-2020-5902) to drop a Linux backdoor. In another, a Microsoft Trade server was exploited by way of a PowerShell dropper that put in China Chopper, a well known webshell in use, by numerous groups, since 2013. In a third, we observed a Plesk server with poorly configured file-add security execute another webshell just like China Chopper. See Figure 2 for an summary of the exploit chain.

Determine 2. Exploit chain from initial compromise to backdoor with C&C communications

Reconnaissance and lateral movement

Following the preliminary compromise, in lots of situations the BackdoorDiplomacy group employed open-source reconnaissance and pink-workforce instruments to guage the setting for extra targets of alternative and lateral movement. Among the many tools documented are:

  • EarthWorm, a simple network tunnel with SOCKS v5 server and port switch functionalities
  • Mimikatz, and numerous variations including SafetyKatz
  • Nbtscan, a command line NetBIOS scanner for Home windows
  • NetCat, a networking utility that reads and writes knowledge throughout network connections
  • PortQry, a device to display the standing of TCP and UDP ports on remote techniques
  • SMBTouch, used to determine whether or not a target is weak to EternalBlue
  • Numerous instruments from the ShadowBrokers dump of NSA instruments including, but not limited to:
    • DoublePulsar
    • EternalBlue
    • EternalRocks
    • EternalSynergy

Commonly used directories for staging recon and lateral movement instruments embrace:

  • C:Program FilesWindows Mailen-US
  • %LOCALAPPDATA%MicrosoftInstallAgentCheckpoints
  • C:ProgramDataESETESET SecurityLogseScan
  • %USERPROFILEpercentESETESET SecurityLogseScan
  • C:Program Fileshphponcfg
  • C:Program Fileshphpssa
  • C:hphpsmh
  • C:ProgramDataMozillaupdates

Of the instruments listed above, many have been obfuscated with VMProtect (v1.60-2.05), a recurring theme with BackdoorDiplomacy tools.

Home windows

Backdoor droppers

In some situations, operators have been noticed uploading backdoor droppers. Operators tried to disguise their backdoor droppers and evade detection in numerous methods.

  • Naming conventions designed to mix into regular operations (e.g. amsc.exe, msvsvr.dll, alg.exe)
  • Dropping implants in folders named for authentic software program (e.g., C:Program Fileshp, C:ProgramDataESET, C:ProgramDataMozilla)
  • DLL search order hijacking

In one such occasion, the operators uploaded, by way of a webshell, each ScnCfg.exe (SHA-1: 573C35AB1F243D6806DEDBDD7E3265BC5CBD5B9A), a respectable McAfee executable, and vsodscpl.dll, a malicious DLL named after a authentic McAfee DLL that is known as by ScnCfg.exe. The version of vsodscpl.dll (SHA-1: FCD8129EA56C8C406D1461CE9DB3E02E616D2AA9) deployed was referred to as by ScnCfg.exe, at which level vsodscpl.dll extracted Turian embedded inside its code, wrote it to memory, and executed it.

On a unique system, operators dropped a respectable copy of credwize.exe, the Microsoft Credential Backup and Restore Wizard, on disk and used it to execute the malicious library New.dll, another Turian variant.


About half of the samples we collected have been obfuscated with VMProtect. A compilation of observed operator instructions is included in the Operator instructions part. Unique community encryption schemes are individually discussed under as nicely.

Similarities with Quarian

The initial reporting by Kaspersky notes that the victims of Quarian have been at the Syrian Ministry of Overseas Affairs, an identical target-set of Turian.

In most of the Turian samples we collected, there are obvious similarities with Quarian. Mutexes are utilized by each to verify that just one occasion is operating, though the mutexes used are dissimilarly named. We noticed the next mutexes utilized by Turian:

  • winsupdatetw
  • clientsix
  • shopper
  • updatethres
  • Others: dynamically generated based mostly on the system’s hostname, limited to eight hex characters, lower-case, and prefaced with a number one zero

C&C server domains and IP addresses are extracted with comparable XOR routines, the place Quarian makes use of a decryption key of 0x44, Turian uses 0xA9.

Turian and Quarian both read the first 4 bytes from the file cf in the same directory as the malware’s executable, that are then used because the sleep size as a part of the C&C beacon routine.

The Turian network connection course of follows an identical sample to Quarian, trying to make a direct connection. If that fails as a result of an area proxy with a response of 407 (Authorization Required), both attempt to use regionally cached credentials. Nevertheless, the request sent to the proxy by Turian doesn’t include any of the grammatical mistakes that Quarian despatched. See Determine three for a comparison of proxy connection attempts.

Determine three. Comparison of proxy connection makes an attempt, Turian (left) and Quarian (right)

Finally, each Turian and Quarian create a remote shell by copying cmd.exe to alg.exe.


After initial execution, Turian establishes persistence by creating the file tmp.bat within the current working listing, writing the next strains to the file, then operating the file:

ReG aDd HKEY_CURRENT_USERsOFtWArEMIcrOsOftWindOwSCurRentVeRsiOnRuN /v Turian_filename> /t REG_SZ /d “<location_of_Turian_on_disk><Turian_fiilename>” /f

ReG aDd HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINEsOFtWArEMIcrOsOftWindOwSCurRentVeRsiOnRuN /v <Turian_filename> /t REG_SZ /d “<location_of_Turian_on_disk><Turian_fiilename>” /f

del %zero

Turian then checks for the presence of the file Sharedaccess.ini in its working listing. If that file is present, Turian attempts to load the C&C IP or area from there, if present. We did not observe Turian move IPs or domains in this manner however testing confirmed Turian seems to load the C&C handle from here first. After checking Sharedaccess.ini, Turian attempts to connect with a hardcoded IP or domain and units up its network encryption protocol.

Network encryption

Quarian is understood to have used both an eight-byte XOR key (see Talos on Quarian: Reversing the C&C Protocol) and an eight-byte nonce to create a session key (see ThreatConnect on Quarian Network Protocol Evaluation in Divide and Conquer: Unmasking China’s ‘Quarian’ Campaigns By means of Group). Turian has a definite technique for exchanging network encryption keys. See Determine 4 for a breakdown of the Turian network encryption setup.

Figure four. Turian network encryption setup

After receiving the final 56-byte packet, Turian calls the network encryption initialization perform in Determine 5, and accepts the 56 bytes of knowledge in the final C&C packet as the one argument.

Figure 5. Hex-Rays decompiled view of the encryption key initialization perform

A second community encryption setup was additionally observed, as depicted in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Second Turian community encryption arrange protocol

The final iteration of the four-iteration loop (QWORD byte[5]) is used because the seed for the key initialization perform, as shown under in Determine 7.

Figure 7. Second key initialization perform

Operator instructions

The complete listing of Turian operator instructions is proven in Table 1.

Table 1. Turian C&C instructions

ID Description
0x01 Get system info together with OS version, reminiscence usage, local hostname, system adapter information, inner IP, present username, state of the listing service installation and domain knowledge.
0x02 Interactive shell – copy %WINDIR%system32cmd.exe to %WINDIRpercentalg.exe and spawn alg.exe in a brand new thread.
0x03 Spawn a brand new thread, acknowledge the command and await one of many three-digit instructions under.
0x04 Take screenshot.
0x103/203 Write file.
0x403 Listing listing.
0x503 journey file.
0x603 Delete file.
0x703 Get startup information.

Concentrating on detachable media

A subset of victims was focused with knowledge assortment executables that have been designed to search for detachable media (almost certainly USB flash drives). The implant routinely scans for such drives, specifically concentrating on detachable media (return value of GetDriveType is 2). If discovered, the implant makes use of an embedded version of WinRAR to execute these hardcoded commands:

  • CMD.exe /C %s a -m5 -hp1qaz@WSX3edc -r %s %s*.*
  • CMD.exe /C %s a -m5 -hpMyHost-1 -r %s %s*.*
  • CMD.exe /C rd /s /q ”%s”

The parameters in the command escape to:

  • a == add information to archive
  • -m[0:5] == compression degree
  • -hp<password>
  • -r == recurse subdirectories
  • rd == take away listing
  • /s == delete a listing tree
  • /q == quiet mode
  • ”%s” == listing to act on

The implant, upon detecting a detachable media being inserted, attempts to repeat all the information on the drive to a password-protected archive and places the archive in the following listing, which is hardcoded and so the identical for each victim:

  • C:RECYCLERS-1-three-33-854245398-2067806209-0000980848-2003

The implant also has the potential to delete information, based mostly on the third command listed above.

Remote entry tools

Sometimes, BackdoorDiplomacy’s operators require a higher diploma of access or extra interactivity than that  offered by Turian. On those events, they make use of open-supply remote access tools resembling Quasar, which provides a wide variety of capabilities and runs on nearly all versions of Home windows.


We found, by way of a shared C&C server domain, a Linux backdoor using comparable community infrastructure and that was deployed after exploiting a recognized vulnerability in F5 BIG-IP load balancers’ visitors management consumer interface (TMUI), which allows distant code execution (RCE). The Linux variant makes an attempt to persist by writing itself to /and so on/init.d/rc.native

Subsequent, it runs by means of a loop to extract strings from memory:

  • bash -model
  • echo $PWD
  • /bin/sh
  • /tmp/AntiVirtmp
  • eth0
  • /proc/%d/exe

Then, it calls its daemon perform and forks off a toddler course of which then begins the work of decrypting the C&C IP handle and/or area identify then initiates a loop that reaches out to the C&C using Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; Firefox/ as its consumer-agent. This C&C loop continues until a successful connection is made. As soon as a connection is established, the Linux agent goes via an analogous network encryption setup to what the Home windows version of Turian carries out. See Figure eight for the community encryption protocol utilized by the Linux variant of Turian.

Determine 8. Linux Turian variant – community encryption protocol setup routine

After receiving the final 56-byte packet, the Linux agent calls the network encryption key initialization perform depicted in Determine 9.

Determine 9. Hex-Rays decompiled community encryption key initialization perform

Upon profitable completion of the network protocol setup, it forks off one other youngster process and attempts to spawn a TTY reverse shell :

  • python -c ‘import pty; pty.spawn(“/bin/sh”)’


BackdoorDiplomacy is a gaggle that primarily targets diplomatic organizations within the Center East and Africa, and less incessantly, telecommunication corporations. Their preliminary attack methodology is concentrated on exploiting weak web-exposed purposes on webservers, in an effort to drop and execute a webshell. Publish compromise, by way of the webshell, BackdoorDiplomacy deploys open-supply software program for reconnaissance and knowledge gathering, and favors using DLL search order hijacking to put in its backdoor, Turian. Finally, BackdoorDiplomacy employs a separate executable to detect removable media, probably USB flash drives, and replica their contents to the primary drive’s recycle bin.

BackdoorDiplomacy shares techniques, methods, and procedures with different Asian teams. Turian probably represents a next stage evolution of Quarian, the backdoor final noticed in use in 2013 towards diplomatic targets in Syria and america. Turian’s community encryption protocol is almost equivalent to the network encryption protocol used by Whitebird, a backdoor operated by Calypso, one other Asian group. Whitebird was deployed inside diplomatic organizations in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan during the identical timeframe as BackdoorDiplomacy (2017-2020). Moreover, BackdoorDiplomacy and APT15 use the same methods and techniques to drop their backdoors on techniques, specifically the aforementioned DLL search order hijacking.

BackdoorDiplomacy can also be cross-platform group concentrating on both Home windows and Linux methods. The Linux variant of Turian shares the same network encryption protocol traits and makes an attempt to return a TTY reverse shell to the operator.



SHA-1 Filename ESET Detection Identify Description
3C0DB3A5194E1568E8E2164149F30763B7F3043D logout.aspx ASP/Webshell.H BackdoorDiplomacy webshell – variant N2
32EF3F67E06C43C18E34FB56E6E62A6534D1D694 present.aspx ASP/Webshell.O BackdoorDiplomacy webshell – variant S1
8C4D2ED23958919FE10334CCFBE8D78CD0D991A8 errorEE.aspx ASP/Webshell.J BackdoorDiplomacy webshell – variant N1
C0A3F78CF7F0B592EF813B15FC0F1D28D94C9604 App_Web_xcg2dubs.dll MSIL/Webshell.C BackdoorDiplomacy webshell – variant N3
CDD583BB6333644472733617B6DCEE2681238A11 N/A Linux/Agent.KD Linux Turian backdoor
FA6C20F00F3C57643F312E84CC7E46A0C7BABE75 N/A Linux/Agent.KD Linux Turian backdoor
5F87FBFE30CA5D6347F4462D02685B6E1E90E464 ScnCfg.exe Win32/Agent.TGO Windows Turian backdoor
B6936BD6F36A48DD1460EEB4AB8473C7626142AC VMSvc.exe Win32/Agent.QKK Windows Turian backdoor
B16393DFFB130304AD627E6872403C67DD4C0AF3 svchost.exe Win32/Agent.TZI Windows Turian backdoor
9DBBEBEBBA20B1014830B9DE4EC9331E66A159DF nvsvc.exe Win32/Agent.UJH Home windows Turian backdoor
564F1C32F2A2501C3C7B51A13A08969CDC3B0390 AppleVersions.dll Win64/Agent.HA Windows Turian backdoor
6E1BB476EE964FFF26A86E4966D7B82E7BACBF47 MozillaUpdate.exe Win32/Agent.UJH Home windows Turian backdoor
FBB0A4F4C90B513C4E51F0D0903C525360FAF3B7 nvsvc.exe Win32/Agent.QAY Windows Turian backdoor
2183AE45ADEF97500A26DBBF69D910B82BFE721A nvsvcv.exe Win32/Agent.UFX Home windows Turian backdoor
849B970652678748CEBF3C4D90F435AE1680601F efsw.exe Win32/Agent.UFX Windows Turian backdoor
C176F36A7FC273C9C98EA74A34B8BAB0F490E19E iexplore32.exe Win32/Agent.QAY Home windows Turian backdoor
626EFB29B0C58461D831858825765C05E1098786 iexplore32.exe Win32/Agent.UFX Home windows Turian backdoor
40E73BF21E31EE99B910809B3B4715AF017DB061 explorer32.exe Win32/Agent.QAY Windows Turian backdoor
255F54DE241A3D12DEBAD2DF47BAC5601895E458 Duser.dll Win32/Agent.URH Windows Turian backdoor
A99CF07FBA62A63A44C6D5EF6B780411CF1B1073 Duser.dll Win64/Agent.HA Home windows Turian backdoor
934B3934FDB4CD55DC4EA1577F9A394E9D74D660 Duser.dll Win32/Agent.TQI Home windows Turian backdoor
EF4DF176916CE5882F88059011072755E1ECC482 iexplore32.exe Win32/Agent.QAY Home windows Turian backdoor



AS Hoster IP tackle Area
AS20473 AS-CHOOPA 199.247.9[.]67 invoice.microsoftbuys[.]com
AS132839 POWER LINE DATACENTER forty hundred and five[.]218 dnsupdate.dns2[.]us
forty hundred and five[.]222
AS40065 Cnservers LLC 162.209.167[.]154
AS132839 POWER LINE DATACENTER 43.225.126[.]179 www.intelupdate.dns1[.]us
AS46573 LAYER-HOST 23.247.forty seven[.]252 www.intelupdate.dns1[.]us
AS132839 POWER LINE DATACENTER forty three.251.a hundred and five[.]222 winupdate.ns02[.]us
AS40065 Cnservers LLC 162.209.167[.]189
AS25820 IT7NET 23.83.224[.]178 winupdate.ns02[.]us hundred forty[.]207
AS132839 POWER LINE DATACENTER forty three.251.a hundred and five[.]218
AS20473 AS-CHOOPA forty hundred twenty[.]84 icta.worldmessg[.]com
AS20473 AS-CHOOPA 78.141.243[.]forty five
78.141.196[.]159 Infoafrica[.]prime
forty five.77.215[.]53 szsz.pmdskm[.]prime
207.148.eight[.]eighty two pmdskm[.]prime
AS132839 POWER LINE DATACENTER hundred and five[.]139 www.freedns02.dns2[.]us
43.251.a hundred and five[.]139 net.vpnkerio[.]com
AS20473 AS-CHOOPA 45.seventy seven.215[.]fifty three
AS135377 UCloud (HK) Holdings Group Limited hundred eighty[.]34
AS132839 POWER LINE DATACENTER forty three.251.a hundred and five[.]218 officeupdates.cleansite[.]us
AS25820 IT7NET hundred forty[.]207 dynsystem.imbbs[.]in
AS40676 Psychz Networks 23.228.203[.]one hundred thirty systeminfo.myftp[.]identify

DDNS suppliers

Supplier Area
expdns[.]internet update.officenews365[.]com
ezdnscenter[.]com bill.microsoftbuys[.]com
changeip[.]org dnsupdate.dns2[.]us
hichina[.]com Infoafrica[.]prime
domaincontrol[.]com net.vpnkerio[.]com
exhera[.]com dynsystem.imbbs[.]in

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