Going Phishing in the African Banking Sector
By Elmer Hernandez, Cofense Phishing Defense Center
The Cofense Phishing Defense Center (PDC) has uncovered a phishing campaign aimed at customers of African financial services group ABSA. Mimicking ABSA’s online banking portal, the adversaries attempt to steal users’ online banking credentials to gain access to their bank accounts.
The phishing email presents the end user with a couple of lines of text informing him/her of pending transfers from another bank that need authorization. The user must download and open the htm attachment “IBPAYDOC.htm” in order to connect to the online portal. The email does not present any indication of an attempt to imitate a legitimate ABSA communication, completely relying instead on the user’s misplaced curiosity.
Figure 1 (Email Body)
Upon opening the htm file, the user is directed to a fake ABSA online banking portal at hxxps://www[.]ahmadnawaz[.]org/ched/tnop[.]php, which is almost identical to the legitimate ABSA portal, as seen in Figures 2 and 3. The user is prompted to provide an “access account” number, PIN and user number that are then posted to hxxps://www[.]ahmadnawaz[.]org/ched/mail1[.]php.
Figure 2 – Legitimate ABSA Portal
Figure 3 – Copycat ABSA Portal
Adversaries have hijacked the ahmadnawaz[.]org domain on which the fraudulent ABSA portal is hosted, belonging to Pakistani education activist Ahmed Nawaz, and created the “/ched” directory to store their php files and subdirectories as seen in Figure 4.
Figure 4 – Index of /ched
Next, the recipient is asked to provide a password in hxxps://www[.]ahmadnawaz[.]org/ched/pass[.]php. This request should tip off users for three reasons. First, ABSA never asks for entire passwords. Second, and in contradictory fashion, instructions for ABSA’s usual password requirements can be found on the right-hand side of the page. Although the password guidelines only require specific characters, the adversaries seem to have kept these in an attempt to make their fake portal look as genuine as possible. Finally, the user’s SurePhrase, part of ABSA’s SureCheck service, is missing. Upon entering their password, it is posted to hxxps://www[.]ahmadnawaz[.]org/ched/mail2[.]php.
Figure 5 – Fake password login page
The user is then directed to hxxps://www[.]ahmadnawaz[.]org/ched/profile[.]php, where a 60- second timer is displayed. Once it reaches zero, the user is instructed to provide a phone number and a code from the ABSA app. Verification messages are normally sent to the ABSA banking app. In this case, however, no such code is sent because the user is not accessing ABSA’s legitimate portal. The threat actors likely rely on curious or frustrated users who decide, nonetheless, to proceed with the login process despite not receiving a verification request, allowing them to steal additional personal information from the end user. The phone number and app code are then posted to hxxps://www[.]ahmadnawaz[.]org/ched/mail3[.]php.
Figure 6 – Timer in profile .php
Figure 7 – Verification Request
Finally, when and if the user provides the last two pieces of information – the phone number and app passcode – the next stop is hxxps://www[.]ahmadnawaz[.]org/ched/finish[.]php, where the aforementioned timer will run out and restart indefinitely. Figure 8 shows the complete HTTPS traffic.
Figure 8 – HTTPS Traffic Overview
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