Malware Campaign Targets Telegram Desktop Application

An independent security researcher based in Basel, Switzerland, Jannis Kirschner, began to look for the widely known desktop version on the internet on Sunday. The second Google result was an advertisement, which led him directly to cloaked as a Telegram for Windows desktop version. At first sight, it was sufficiently convincing for Kirschner to say that “almost fell for it myself.”

Malware vendors are habituated to use the same publicity tools that online businesses use to attract people. To stop such abuse, Google patrols its advertising ecosystem, but malware advertising is still an ongoing problem. Although a visit by telegramdesktop[dot]com to one of those sites now triggered an alert from the Google Safe Browsing service, that the two sites were unsafe and potentially still active and duplicated others. These include the telegraph[dot]net and the telegram[dot]org. The websites were reported to Google by Kirschner.

Each of these three spoofed websites is Telegram’s clones. All links on cloned sites are redirected to the legitimate Telegram domain, design.telegram.com. But one link is exchanged which is supposed to be the execution for the Telegram Desktop version of Windows.

“A repo probably was a bad choice for delivering malware since it’s very verbose (download numbers, time, and other documents),” Kirschner says. “The biggest opsec mistake was that they didn’t clean one of the repo’s metadata, which led me to discover commit messages and their e-mail [address].”

He further adds that “I believe that it is the same threat actor or group since the TTPs [tactics, techniques, and procedures] are the same, and all sites have been established in a very close timeframe using the same hoster and certificate authority.”

At least a temporary benefit is offered to host malware on platforms such as Bitbucket: surface links are often deemed to be genuine, and attackers are subject to a malicious reservoir that needs to be removed until someone reports it. The techniques help cover a technological filtering and manual screening , but don’t always measure properly, says Kirschner.

A February 2020 report by the security firm Cybereason reported over half a dozen newcomers, crypto miners, ransomware, and other malware put on Bitbucket by bad actors.

The telegramdesktop[dot]com website seems to be shared with Moldova. Kirschner says this domain was registered on 29 December 2020. A search in the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive, reveals that telegramdesktop[dot]com was redirected to the rightful domain telegram.org in April 2018. However, according to DomainTools records, the domain expired in October 2018.

“I assume that domain once belonged to Telegram themselves, expired and was taken over by the criminals now,” Kirschner further says.

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