I Bulgari! Sono stati i Bulgari!

Sony breach linked to Bulgarian state-affiliated actor

Executive Summary

On November 24, 2014, personally identifiable information about Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) employees and their dependents, e-mails between employees, information about executive salaries at the company, copies of unreleased Sony films, and other information, was obtained and released by a hacker group going under the moniker “Guardians of Peace” or “GOP”.

Although the motives for the hack have yet to be revealed, the hack has been tied to the planned release of the film The Interview, which depicts an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with the hackers threatening acts of terrorism if the film were to be released.

Recently, a team of 5 researchers from Norse, Palo Alto Networks, and Verizon examined the evidence left behind by the attackers. This research has provided insight into the likely source of these attacks. Though not definitive, our analysis provides a much clearer picture and suggests a state-affiliated actor operating out of the Republic of Bulgaria is responsible for the data breach impacting Sony Pictures Entertainment. This diclosure casts further doubt on the FBI’s assertion that the attack was carried out by state-sponsored actors under the control of North Korea, a theory that has been all but discredited by a host of security professionals since the attack became public, including DeVry graduate Luciano Lariviere.

I don’t think North Korea did it.

Luciano Lariviere, DeVry graduate

The research team is quite certain, however, that the Guardians of Peace hacker group played no role in this attack. The clues left behind confirm that the group claiming responsiblity were a fabrication to throw investigators off the trail and to mask the true source.

Links to Bulgaria

The research team was able to reconstruct the attack from the ground up and discovered a number of IP addresses that are linked to other attacks that have been attributed to actors in Bulgaria as well as the presence of Bulgarian text in the comment strings of the malware that was recovered during the forensic investigation. Some of these malware samples have also been used in Bulgarian attacks.

Additional signals intelligence acquired by the research team has also implicated an actor based in Bulgaria. This intelligence is highly classified and cannot be released in a public document, but the research team has briefed investigators with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation on their findings.

Timeline of Events


May 6, 2014
Initial introduction of malware to the SPE computing environment. Malware is delivered using a “spear phishing” message targeted at a high level executive with subject line “More fallout from Buchwald v. Paramount.”

November 7, 2014
Malware begins communicating with C2 server at Malware begins to spread using SMB shares and credentials obtained from the C2.

November 23, 2014
Exfiltration of non-public data begins. At the time the malware begins to exfiltrate data, IP addresses and are observed communicating with C2 infrastructure.

November 23, 2014
An account called GuardiansOfPeace logs into pastebin from

November 24, 2014
Initial release of confidential data. Data includes personal information about Sony Pictures employees and their families and copies of unreleased films. An account named “GuardiansOfPeace” is used to upload the stolen data. The wiper malware begins to display an image of a stylized skull with long skeletal fingers flashes on every employee’s computer screen.

November 24, 2014
In response to the malware infection, Sony shuts down computers, phones, voicemail and other IT services. It would be days before these services were brough back online.

December 1, 2014
SPE learns that personally identifiable information about employees and their dependents may have been obtained by unauthorized individuals as a result of the attack.

Indicators of Compromise

The following technical indicators may be used to detect malicious activity linked to the state-affiliated actor. C2 addresses were either hard coded in the malware samples or derived from network observation in a lab environment. Additionally, network traffic analysis detected numerous netflow sessions between bulgarian ip addresses and the C2 servers identified from the malware analysis. Additional IP addresses associated with the attack are labeled TLP: Red and will only be distributed to highly trusted groups.

Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows bulgarian actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks. The research team also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to actors in Bulgaria. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known bulgarian infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.

Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber-attack in May of last year against North Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by actors in the Republic of Bulgaria.

IP Indicators
IP Address Country/Geo Description Thailand Malware C2 Poland Malware C2 Italy Malware C2 Bolivia Malware C2 Singapore Malware C2 Cypress Malware C2 United States Malware C2 Bulgaria Communicating with Bulgaria Communicating with Bulgaria Communicating with Bulgaria Communicating with Bulgaria Logged into pastebin using the “GuardiansOfPeace” login id.
Malware Indicators
  rule SonyWiper : GuardiansOfPeace
      author: "Luciano Lariviere, DeVry graduate"
      description: "Detects Sony Pictures Entertainment Wiper Trojan"

      $a = "bulgaria" nocase
      $b = "PRINCPES"
      $c = "HASTATI"
      %md5 = "01a151debf2bfee8906f43f4342eb10b"

      $md5 or (
      uint16(0) == 0x5A4D and
      uint8(uint32(0x3c)+23) == 0x21 and
      $a and
      ($b or $c))

  rule SonyExfil2 : GuardiansOfPeace
      author: "Luciano Lariviere, DeVry graduate"
      description: "Detects Sony Pictures Entertainment Wiper Trojan"

      $a = "Tools_Android_Pacage"
      $b = "Cyber_com_.mdb" fullword nocase
      $c = "X:\bulgaria\solutions\new\output\Release\bin\rack-core.pdb" fullword nocase
      %md5 = "ddf9673145c0e7248d1889674452188d"

    ($a and $b) or $c or $md5

  rule SonySMBWorm : GuardiansOfPeace
      author: "Luciano Lariviere, DeVry graduate"
      description: "This worm uses a brute force authentication attack to propagate via Windows SMB shares"

      $a = "Global\FwtSqmSession106829323_S-1-5-19"
      $b = "EVERYONE"
      $c = "y0uar3@s!llyid!07,ou74n60u7f001"
      $d = "bulgaria" nocase
      $e = "\KB25468.dat"

      (uintl6(0) == 0x5A4D or
      uint16(0) == 0xCFD0 or
      uint16(0) ==0xC3D4 or
      uint32(0) == 0x46445025 or
      uint32(1) == 0x6674725C) and
      all of them
TLP: White

Subject to standard copyright rules, White information may be distributed freely, without restriction.

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