Posts Tagged: cyber espionage


10
Dec 12

Espionage Attacks Against Ruskies?

Hardly a week goes by without news of a cyber espionage attack emanating from China that is focused on extracting sensitive data from corporations and research centers in the United States. But analysis of a recent malware campaign suggests that cyberspies in that region may be just as interested in siphoning secrets from Russian targets.

The Cyrillic text used in the decoy document.

Researchers at Milpitas, Calif. based security firm FireEye say they spotted an email attack of apparent Chinese origin that used Russian language lures to steal data from mostly Russian victims. The email malware campaign embedded a Microsoft Word exploit that displayed a decoy document containing news about a meeting of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

According to FireEye’s Alex Lanstein, this campaign had its control infrastructure in Korea and Japan, but clues point to Chinese design and operation. The malicious Word document sample that kicked this off was authored from a Microsoft Windows system that was set to use the language pack “Windows Simplified Chinese (PRC, Singapore). The researchers also say they were able to gain access to the control server used in the attack, which revealed systems logging in from China to check on new victims.

Update, 1:05 p.m. ET: FireEye just published a blog post about this research, which indicates they now believe the likely source of this attack was Korea, not China. The headline to this story has been modified..

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30
Jul 12

Tagging and Tracking Espionage Botnets

A security researcher who’s spent 18 months cataloging and tracking malicious software that was developed and deployed specifically for spying on governments, activists and industry executives says the complexity and scope of these cyberspy networks now rivals many large conventional cybercrime operations.

Joe Stewart, senior director of malware research at Atlanta-based Dell SecureWorks, said he’s tracked more than 200 unique families of custom malware used in cyber-espionage campaigns. He also uncovered some 1,100 Web site names registered by cyberspies for hosting networks used to control the malware, or for “spear phishing,” highly targeted emails that spread the malware.

Although those numbers may seem low in the grand scheme of things (antivirus companies now deal with many tens of thousands of new malware samples each day), almost everything about the way these cyberspying networks are put together seems designed to mask the true scope of the operations, he found. For instance, Stewart discovered that the attackers set up almost 20,000 subdomains on those 1,100 domain names; but these subdomains were used for controlling or handing out new malware for botnets that each only controlled a few hundred computers at a time.

“Unlike the largest cybercrime networks that can contain millions of infected computers in a single botnet, cyber-espionage encompasses tens of thousands of infected computers spread across hundreds of botnets,” Stewart wrote in a paper released at last week’s Black Hat security convention in Las Vegas. “So each botnet…tends to look like a fairly small-scale operation. But this belies the fact that for every [cyber-espionage] botnet that is discovered and publicized, hundreds more continue to lie undetected on thousands of networks.”

Once you get past all the technical misdirection built into the malware networks by its architects, Stewart said, the infrastructure that frames these spy machines generally points in one of two directions: one group’s infrastructure points back to Shanghai, the other to Beijing.

“There have to be hundreds of people involved, just to maintain this amount of infrastructure and this much activity and this many spear phishes, collecting so many documents, and writing this much malware,” Stewart said. “But when it comes time to grouping them, that’s when it gets harder. What I can tell from the clustering I’m doing here is that there are two major groups in operation. Some have dozens of different malware families that they use, but many will share a common botnet command and control infrastructure.”

Domains connected to different cyber-espionage botnets typically trace back to one of two destinations in China, according to Dell SecureWorks.

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