The SideWalk backdoor gets a Linux variant | Honor Tech

ESET researchers have uncovered one different instrument inside the already in depth arsenal of the SparklingGoblin APT group: a Linux variant of the SideWalk backdoor

ESET researchers have discovered a Linux variant of the SideWalk backdoor, one in all many quite a lot of personalized implants utilized by the SparklingGoblin APT group. This variant was deployed in direction of a Hong Kong school in February 2021, the equivalent school that had already been targeted by SparklingGoblin all through the pupil protests in Might 2020. We initially named this backdoor StageClient, nonetheless now verify with it merely as SideWalk Linux. We moreover discovered {{that a}} beforehand recognized Linux backdoor – the Specter RAT, first documented by 360 Netlab – will be actually a SideWalk Linux variant, having quite a lot of commonalities with the samples we acknowledged.

SparklingGoblin is an APT group whose methods, methods, and procedures (TTPs) partially overlap with APT41 and BARIUM. It makes use of Motnug and ChaCha20-based loaders, the CROSSWALK and SideWalk backdoors, along with Korplug (aka PlugX) and Cobalt Strike. Whereas the group targets largely East and Southeast Asia, now we have now moreover seen SparklingGoblin concentrating on a broad fluctuate of organizations and verticals world huge, with a selected give consideration to the educational sector. SparklingGoblin is doubtless one of many groups with entry to the ShadowPad backdoor.

This blogpost paperwork SideWalk Linux, its victimology, and its fairly a number of similarities with the initially discovered SideWalk backdoor.


The SideWalk backdoor is exclusive to SparklingGoblin. Together with the quite a lot of code similarities between the Linux variants of SideWalk and diverse SparklingGoblin devices, one in all many SideWalk Linux samples makes use of a C&C deal with (66.42.103[.]222) that was beforehand utilized by SparklingGoblin.

Considering all of these elements, we attribute with extreme confidence SideWalk Linux to the SparklingGoblin APT group.


Even supposing there are quite a few SideWalk Linux samples, as we now know them, on VirusTotal, in our telemetry now we have now found only one sufferer compromised with this SideWalk variant: a Hong Kong school that, amidst pupil protests, had beforehand been targeted by every SparklingGoblin (using the Motnug loader and the CROSSWALK backdoor) and Fishmonger (using the ShadowPad and Spyder backdoors). Bear in mind that in the mean time we put these two fully completely different clusters of train beneath the broader Winnti Group denomination.

SparklingGoblin first compromised this express school in Might 2020, and we first detected the Linux variant of SideWalk in that school’s neighborhood in February 2021. The group always targeted this group over a protracted time-frame, effectively compromising quite a lot of key servers, along with a print server, an e-mail server, and a server used to deal with pupil schedules and course registrations.

The freeway to Sidewalk Linux

SideWalk, which we first described in its Dwelling home windows sort in our blogpost on August twenty fourth, 2021, is a multipurpose backdoor which will load further modules despatched from the C&C server. It makes use of Google Docs as a dead-drop resolver, and Cloudflare workers as its C&C server. It could accurately cope with communication behind a proxy.

The compromise chain is in the mean time unknown, nonetheless we count on that the preliminary assault vector might need been exploitation. This hypothesis depends on the 360 Netlab article describing the Specter botnet concentrating on IP cameras, and NVR and DVR models, and the reality that the Hong Kong sufferer used a weak WordPress server, since there have been many makes an try and put in diverse webshells.

We first documented the Linux variant of SideWalk as StageClient on July 2nd, 2021, with out making the connection in the mean time to SparklingGoblin and its personalized SideWalk backdoor. The distinctive determine was used because of the repeated appearances of the string StageClient inside the code.

Whereas researching StageClient extra, we found a blogpost regarding the Specter botnet described by 360 Netlab. That blogpost describes a modular Linux backdoor with versatile configuration that makes use of a ChaCha20 encryption variant – principally a subset of StageClient’s efficiency. Extra inspection confirmed this hypothesis; we furthermore found an infinite overlap in efficiency, infrastructure, and symbols present in the entire binaries.

We in distinction the StageClient sample E5E6E100876E652189E7D25FFCF06DE959093433 with Specter samples 7DF0BE2774B17F672B96860D013A933E97862E6C and positioned quite a number of similarities, a number of of which we report below.

First, there could also be an overlap in C&C directions. Subsequent, the samples have the equivalent development of configuration and encryption methodology (see Decide 1 and Decide 2).

Decide 1. StageClient’s configuration with modified symbols

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Decide 2. Specter’s configuration with modified symbols

Furthermore, the samples’ modules are managed in just about the equivalent strategy, and practically the entire interfaces are an equivalent; modules of StageClient solely should implement one further handler, which is for closing the module. Three out of the 5 recognized modules are just about an equivalent.

Lastly, we would see hanging overlaps inside the neighborhood protocols of the in distinction samples. A variant of ChaCha20 is used twice for encryption with LZ4 compression in the very same strategy. Every StageClient and Specter create numerous threads (see Decide 3 and Decide 4) to deal with sending and receiving asynchronous messages along with heartbeats.

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Decide 3. A part of StageClient’s StageClient::StartNetwork function

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Decide 4. A part of Specter’s StartNetwork function

No matter all these hanging similarities, there are a selection of changes. In all probability essentially the most notable ones are the subsequent:

  • The authors switched from the C language to C++. The reason is unknown, nonetheless it should be less complicated to implement such modular construction in C++ ensuing from its polymorphism assist.
  • An option to commerce messages over HTTP was added (see Decide 5 and Decide 6).

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Decide 5. Sending a message in StageClient

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Decide 6. Sending a message in Specter

  • Downloadable plugins have been modified with precompiled modules that fulfill the equivalent objective; numerous new directions and two new modules have been added.
  • Added the module TaskSchedulerMod, which operates as a built-in cron utility. Its cron desk is saved in memory; the roles are acquired over the neighborhood and executed as shell directions.
  • Added the module SysInfoMgr, which affords particulars in regards to the underlying system such as a result of the report of put in packages and {{hardware}} particulars.

These similarities persuade us that Specter and StageClient are from the equivalent malware family. Nonetheless, considering the fairly a number of code overlaps between the StageClient variant used in direction of the Hong Kong school in February 2021 and SideWalk for Dwelling home windows, as described inside the subsequent half, we now think about that Specter and StageClient are every Linux variants of SideWalk, so now we have now decided to verify with them as SideWalk Linux.

Similarities with the Dwelling home windows variant

SideWalk Dwelling home windows and SideWalk Linux share too many similarities to elucidate contained in the confines of this blogpost, so proper right here we solely cowl primarily essentially the most hanging ones.


An obvious similarity is noticeable inside the implementations of ChaCha20 encryption: every variants use a counter with an preliminary price of 0x0B, which was beforehand talked about in our blogpost as a specificity of SideWalk’s ChaCha20 implementation.

Software program program construction

One SideWalk particularity is utilizing quite a lot of threads to execute one specific job. We seen that in every variants there are exactly 5 threads executed concurrently, each of them having a specific job. The following report describes the function of each; the thread names are from the code:

  • StageClient::ThreadNetworkReverse
    If a connection to the C&C server won’t be already established, this thread periodically makes an try and retrieve the native proxy configuration and the C&C server location from the dead-drop resolver. If the sooner step was worthwhile, it makes an try to impress a connection to the C&C server.
  • StageClient::ThreadHeartDetect
    If the backdoor didn’t acquire a command inside the specified time frame, this thread can terminate the reference to the C&C server or change to a “nap” mode that introduces minor changes to the habits.
  • StageClient::ThreadPollingDriven
    If there isn’t a such factor as a special queued data to ship, this thread periodically sends a heartbeat command to the C&C server which will furthermore embrace the current time.
  • StageClient::ThreadBizMsgSend
    This thread periodically checks whether or not or not there could also be data to be despatched inside the message queues utilized by all the other threads and, in that case, processes it.
  • StageClient::ThreadBizMsgHandler
    This thread periodically checks whether or not or not there are any pending messages acquired from the C&C server and, in that case, handles them.


As in SideWalk Dwelling home windows, the configuration is decrypted using ChaCha20.


First, sooner than decrypting, there’s a data integrity check. This check is analogous in every implementations of SideWalk (see Decide 7 and Decide 8): an MD5 hash is computed on the ChaCha20 nonce concatenated to the encrypted configuration data. This hash is then checked in direction of a predefined price, and if not equal, SideWalk exits.

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Decide 7. SideWalk Linux: Configuration integrity check

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Decide 8. SideWalk Dwelling home windows: Configuration integrity check


Decide 9 presents excerpts of decrypted configurations from the samples that we analyzed.

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Decide 9. Configuration components from E5E6E100876E652189E7D25FFCF06DE959093433 (left) and FA6A40D3FC5CD4D975A01E298179A0B36AA02D4E (correct)

The SideWalk Linux config incorporates a lot much less data than the SideWalk Dwelling home windows one. That is sensible on account of practically the entire configuration artifacts in SideWalk Dwelling home windows are used as cryptography and neighborhood parameters, whereas most of these are interior in SideWalk Linux.

Decryption using ChaCha20

As beforehand talked about, SideWalk makes use of a most necessary world development to retailer its configuration. This configuration is first decrypted using the modified implementation of ChaCha20, as seen in Decide 10.

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Decide 10. ChaCha20 decryption identify in SideWalk Dwelling home windows (left) and in SideWalk Linux (correct)

Bear in mind that the ChaCha20 secret is exactly the equivalent in every variants, strengthening the connection between the two.

Lifeless-drop resolver

The dead-drop resolver payload is a similar in every samples. As a reminder from our blogpost on SideWalk, Decide 11 depicts the format of the payload that’s fetched from the dead-drop resolver.

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Decide 11. Format of the string hosted inside the Google Docs doc

For the first delimiter, we uncover that the PublicKey: part of the string is ignored; the string AE68[…]3EFF is instantly searched, as confirmed in Decide 12.

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Decide 12. SideWalk Linux’s first delimiter routine (left), end delimiter and middle delimiter routines (correct)

The delimiters are an equivalent, along with your complete decoding algorithm.

Sufferer fingerprinting

With the intention to fingerprint the sufferer, fully completely different artifacts are gathered on the sufferer’s machine. We seen that the fetched data is strictly the equivalent, to the extent of it even being fetched within the equivalent order.

As a result of the boot time in each case is a Dwelling windows-compliant time format, we are going to hypothesize that the operators’ controller runs beneath Dwelling home windows, and that the controller is analogous for every Linux and Dwelling home windows victims. One different argument supporting this hypothesis is that the ChaCha20 keys utilized in every implementations of SideWalk are the equivalent.

Communication protocol

Information serialization

The communication protocol between the contaminated machine and the C&C is HTTP or HTTPS, counting on the configuration, nonetheless in every circumstances, the information is serialized within the equivalent technique. Not solely is the implementation very comparable, nonetheless the an equivalent encryption secret is utilized in every implementations, which, as soon as extra, accentuates the similarity between the two variants.

POST requests

Throughout the POST requests utilized by SideWalk to fetch directions and payloads from the C&C server, one noticeable stage is utilizing the two parameters gtsid and gtuvid, as seen in Decide 13. Equal parameters are used inside the Linux variant.

Decide 13. Occasion of a POST request utilized by SideWalk Dwelling home windows

One different fascinating stage is that the Dwelling windows variant runs as completely position-independent shellcode, whereas the Linux variant is a shared library. Nonetheless, we count on the malware’s authors might need merely taken a further step, using a instrument resembling sRDI to rework a compiled SideWalk PE to shellcode in its place of manually writing the shellcode.


Solely 4 directions are normally not utilized or utilized differently inside the Linux variant, as listed in Desk 1. All the other directions are present – even with the equivalent IDs.

Desk 1. Directions with fully completely different or missing implementation inside the Linux mannequin of SideWalk

Command ID (from C&C) Dwelling home windows variants Linux variants
0x7C Load a plugin despatched by the C&C server. Not utilized in SideWalk Linux.
0x82 Accumulate space particulars about working processes, and owners (proprietor SID, account determine, course of determine, space data). Do nothing.
0x8C Information serialization function. Directions that aren’t handled, nonetheless fall inside the default case, which is broadcasting a message to the entire loaded modules.
0x8E Write the acquired data to the file positioned at %AllUsersProfilepercentUTXPnat<filename>, the place <filename> is a hash of the value returned by VirtualAlloc at each execution of the malware.


Throughout the Linux variant, we observed a specificity that was not found inside the Dwelling home windows variant: a mannequin amount is computed (see Decide 14).

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Decide 14. Versioning function in SideWalk Linux

The hardcoded date might very properly be the beginning or end of enchancment of this mannequin of SideWalk Linux. The final word computation is made out of the yr, day, and month, from the value Oct 26 2020. On this case, the outcome’s 1171798691840.


In SideWalk Linux variants, modules are in-built; they’ll’t be fetched from the C&C server. Which may be a notable distinction from the Dwelling home windows variant. A couple of of those built-in functionalities, like gathering system data (SysInfoMgr, as an illustration) resembling neighborhood configuration, are completed instantly by devoted options inside the Dwelling home windows variant. Throughout the Dwelling home windows variant, some plugins could also be added by way of C&C communication.

Safety evasion

The Dwelling home windows variant of SideWalk goes to good lengths to cover the goals of its code. It trimmed out all data and code that was pointless for its execution and encrypted the rest. Nonetheless, the Linux variants embrace symbols and depart some distinctive authentication keys and completely different artifacts unencrypted, which makes the detection and analysis significantly less complicated.

Furthermore, the so much elevated number of inlined options inside the Dwelling home windows variant implies that its code was compiled with the subsequent stage of compiler optimizations.


The backdoor that was used to assault a Hong Kong school in February 2021 is analogous malware family as a result of the SideWalk backdoor, and actually is a Linux variant of the backdoor. This Linux mannequin reveals quite a lot of similarities with its Dwelling home windows counterpart along with diverse novelties.


For any inquiries about our evaluation printed on WeLiveSecurity, please contact us at [email protected]

ESET Evaluation now moreover offers private APT intelligence research and data feeds. For any inquiries about this service, go to the ESET Threat Intelligence web page.



An entire report of Indicators of Compromise and samples could also be current in our GitHub repository.

SHA-1 Filename ESET detection determine Description
FA6A40D3FC5CD4D975A01E298179A0B36AA02D4E ssh_tunnel1_0 Linux/SideWalk.L SideWalk Linux (StageClient variant)
7DF0BE2774B17F672B96860D013A933E97862E6C hw_ex_watchdog.exe Linux/SideWalk.B SideWalk Linux (Specter variant)


Space IP First seen Notes
rec.micosoft[.]ga 172.67.8[.]59 2021-06-15 SideWalk C&C server (StageClient variant)
66.42.103[.]222 2020-09-25 SideWalk C&C server (Specter variant from 360 Netlab’s blogpost)

MITRE ATT&CK methods

This desk was constructed using mannequin 11 of the MITRE ATT&CK framework.

Tactic ID Title Description
Helpful useful resource Development T1587.001 Develop Capabilities: Malware SparklingGoblin makes use of its private malware arsenal.
Discovery T1016 System Group Configuration Discovery SideWalk Linux has the pliability to look out the neighborhood configuration of the compromised machine, along with the proxy configuration.
Command and Administration T1071.001 Software Layer Protocol: Web Protocols SideWalk Linux communicates by means of HTTPS with the C&C server.
T1573.001 Encrypted Channel: Symmetric Cryptography SideWalk Linux makes use of ChaCha20 to encrypt communication data.

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