Entries Tagged "Kaspersky"
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Duqu 2.0 is a really impressive piece of malware, related to Stuxnet and probably written by the NSA. One of its security features is that it stays resident in its host’s memory without ever writing persistent files to the system’s drives. Now, this same technique is being used by criminals:
Now, fileless malware is going mainstream, as financially motivated criminal hackers mimic their nation-sponsored counterparts. According to research Kaspersky Lab plans to publish Wednesday, networks belonging to at least 140 banks and other enterprises have been infected by malware that relies on the same in-memory design to remain nearly invisible. Because infections are so hard to spot, the actual number is likely much higher. Another trait that makes the infections hard to detect is the use of legitimate and widely used system administrative and security tools—including PowerShell, Metasploit, and Mimikatz—to inject the malware into computer memory.
The researchers first discovered the malware late last year, when a bank’s security team found a copy of Meterpreter—an in-memory component of Metasploit—residing inside the physical memory of a Microsoft domain controller. After conducting a forensic analysis, the researchers found that the Meterpreter code was downloaded and injected into memory using PowerShell commands. The infected machine also used Microsoft’s NETSH networking tool to transport data to attacker-controlled servers. To obtain the administrative privileges necessary to do these things, the attackers also relied on Mimikatz. To reduce the evidence left in logs or hard drives, the attackers stashed the PowerShell commands into the Windows registry.
Last July, a still-anonymous hacker broke into the network belonging to the cyberweapons arms manufacturer Hacking Team, and dumped an enormous amount of its proprietary documents online. Kaspersky Labs was able to reverse-engineer one of its zero-day exploits from that data.
Two former Kaspersky employees have accused the company of faking malware to harm rival antivirus products. They would falsely classify legitimate files as malicious, tricking other antivirus companies that blindly copied Kaspersky’s data into deleting them from their customers’ computers.
In one technique, Kaspersky’s engineers would take an important piece of software commonly found in PCs and inject bad code into it so that the file looked like it was infected, the ex-employees said. They would send the doctored file anonymously to VirusTotal.
Then, when competitors ran this doctored file through their virus detection engines, the file would be flagged as potentially malicious. If the doctored file looked close enough to the original, Kaspersky could fool rival companies into thinking the clean file was problematic as well.
The former Kaspersky employees said Microsoft was one of the rivals that were targeted because many smaller security companies followed the Redmond, Washington-based company’s lead in detecting malicious files. They declined to give a detailed account of any specific attack.
Microsoft’s antimalware research director, Dennis Batchelder, told Reuters in April that he recalled a time in March 2013 when many customers called to complain that a printer code had been deemed dangerous by its antivirus program and placed in “quarantine.”
Batchelder said it took him roughly six hours to figure out that the printer code looked a lot like another piece of code that Microsoft had previously ruled malicious. Someone had taken a legitimate file and jammed a wad of bad code into it, he said. Because the normal printer code looked so much like the altered code, the antivirus program quarantined that as well.
Over the next few months, Batchelder’s team found hundreds, and eventually thousands, of good files that had been altered to look bad.
Kaspersky denies it.
EDITED TO ADD (8/19): Here’s an October 2013 presentation by Microsoft on the attacks.
EDITED TO ADD (9/11): A dissenting opinion.
On Monday, the Intercept published a new story from the Snowden documents:
The spy agencies have reverse engineered software products, sometimes under questionable legal authority, and monitored web and email traffic in order to discreetly thwart anti-virus software and obtain intelligence from companies about security software and users of such software. One security software maker repeatedly singled out in the documents is Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, which has a holding registered in the U.K., claims more than 270,000 corporate clients, and says it protects more than 400 million people with its products.
British spies aimed to thwart Kaspersky software in part through a technique known as software reverse engineering, or SRE, according to a top-secret warrant renewal request. The NSA has also studied Kaspersky Lab’s software for weaknesses, obtaining sensitive customer information by monitoring communications between the software and Kaspersky servers, according to a draft top-secret report. The U.S. spy agency also appears to have examined emails inbound to security software companies flagging new viruses and vulnerabilities.
Wired has a good article on the documents:
The documents…don’t describe actual computer breaches against the security firms, but instead depict a systematic campaign to reverse-engineer their software in order to uncover vulnerabilities that could help the spy agencies subvert it.
An NSA slide describing “Project CAMBERDADA” lists at least 23 antivirus and security firms that were in that spy agency’s sights. They include the Finnish antivirus firm F-Secure, the Slovakian firm Eset, Avast software from the Czech Republic. and Bit-Defender from Romania. Notably missing from the list are the American anti-virus firms Symantec and McAfee as well as the UK-based firm Sophos.
But antivirus wasn’t the only target of the two spy agencies. They also targeted their reverse-engineering skills against CheckPoint, an Israeli maker of firewall software, as well as commercial encryption programs and software underpinning the online bulletin boards of numerous companies. GCHQ, for example, reverse-engineered both the CrypticDisk program made by Exlade and the eDataSecurity system from Acer. The spy agency also targeted web forum systems like vBulletin and Invision Power Boardused by Sony Pictures, Electronic Arts, NBC Universal and othersas well as CPanel, a software used by GoDaddy for configuring its servers, and PostfixAdmin, for managing the Postfix email server software But that’s not all. GCHQ reverse-engineered Cisco routers, too, which allowed the agency’s spies to access “almost any user of the internet” inside Pakistan and “to re-route selective traffic” straight into the mouth of GCHQ’s collection systems.
Kaspersky recently announced that it was the victim of Duqu 2.0, probably from Israel.
There’s a lot of details, and I recommend reading them. There was probably a Kerberos zero-day vulnerability involved, allowing the attackers to send updates to Kaspersky’s clients. There’s code specifically targeting anti-virus software, both Kaspersky and others. The system includes anti-sniffer defense, and packet-injection code. It’s designed to reside in RAM so that it better avoids detection. This is all very sophisticated.
Eugene Kaspersky wrote an op-ed condemning the attack—and making his company look good—and almost, but not quite, comparing attacking his company to attacking the Red Cross:
Historically companies like mine have always played an important role in the development of IT. When the number of Internet users exploded, cybercrime skyrocketed and became a serious threat to the security of billions of Internet users and connected devices. Law enforcement agencies were not prepared for the advent of the digital era, and private security companies were alone in providing protection against cybercrime both to individuals and to businesses. The security community has been something like a group of doctors for the Internet; we even share some vocabulary with the medical profession: we talk about ‘viruses’, ‘disinfection’, etc. And obviously we’re helping law enforcement develop its skills to fight cybercrime more effectively.
One thing that struck me from a very good Wired article on Duqu 2.0:
Raiu says each of the infections began within three weeks before the P5+1 meetings occurred at that particular location. “It cannot be coincidental,” he says. “Obviously the intention was to spy on these meetings.”
Initially Kaspersky was unsure all of these infections were related, because one of the victims appeared not to be part of the nuclear negotiations. But three weeks after discovering the infection, Raiu says, news outlets began reporting that negotiations were already taking place at the site. “Somehow the attackers knew in advance that this was one of the [negotiation] locations,” Raiu says.
Exactly how the attackers spied on the negotiations is unclear, but the malware contained modules for sniffing WiFi networks and hijacking email communications. But Raiu believes the attackers were more sophisticated than this. “I don’t think their style is to infect people connecting to the WiFi. I think they were after some kind of room surveillance—to hijack the audio through the teleconference or hotel phone systems.”
Those meetings are talks about Iran’s nuclear program, which we previously believed Israel spied on. Look at the details of the attack, though: hack the hotel’s Internet, get into the phone system, and turn the hotel phones into room bugs. Very clever.
This week, Kaspersky Labs published detailed information on what it calls the Equation Group—almost certainly the NSA—and its abilities to embed spyware deep inside computers, gaining pretty much total control of those computers while maintaining persistence in the face of reboots, operating system reinstalls, and commercial anti-virus products. The details are impressive, and I urge anyone interested to read the Kaspersky documents, or this very detailed article from Ars Technica.
Kaspersky doesn’t explicitly name the NSA, but talks about similarities between these techniques and Stuxnet, and points to NSA-like codenames. A related Reuters story provides more confirmation: “A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.”
In some ways, this isn’t news. We saw examples of these techniques in 2013, when Der Spiegel published details of the NSA’s 2008 catalog of implants. (Aside: I don’t believe the person who leaked that catalog is Edward Snowden.) In those pages, we saw examples of malware that embedded itself in computers’ BIOS and disk drive firmware. We already know about the NSA’s infection methods using packet injection and hardware interception.
This is targeted surveillance. There’s nothing here that implies the NSA is doing this sort of thing to every computer, router, or hard drive. It’s doing it only to networks it wants to monitor. Reuters again: “Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.” A map of the infections Kaspersky found bears this out.
On one hand, it’s the sort of thing we want the NSA to do. It’s targeted. It’s exploiting existing vulnerabilities. In the overall scheme of things, this is much less disruptive to Internet security than deliberately inserting vulnerabilities that leave everyone insecure.
On the other hand, the NSA’s definition of “targeted” can be pretty broad. We know that it’s hacked the Belgian telephone company and the Brazilian oil company. We know it’s collected every phone call in the Bahamas and Afghanistan. It hacks system administrators worldwide.
On the other other hand—can I even have three hands?—I remember a line from my latest book: “Today’s top-secret programs become tomorrow’s PhD theses and the next day’s hacker tools.” Today, the Equation Group is “probably the most sophisticated computer attack group in the world,” but these techniques aren’t magically exclusive to the NSA. We know China uses similar techniques. Companies like Gamma Group sell less sophisticated versions of the same things to Third World governments worldwide. We need to figure out how to maintain security in the face of these sorts of attacks, because we’re all going to be subjected to the criminal versions of them in three to five years.
That’s the real problem. Steve Bellovin wrote about this:
For more than 50 years, all computer security has been based on the separation between the trusted portion and the untrusted portion of the system. Once it was “kernel” (or “supervisor”) versus “user” mode, on a single computer. The Orange Book recognized that the concept had to be broader, since there were all sorts of files executed or relied on by privileged portions of the system. Their newer, larger category was dubbed the “Trusted Computing Base” (TCB). When networking came along, we adopted firewalls; the TCB still existed on single computers, but we trusted “inside” computers and networks more than external ones.
There was a danger sign there, though few people recognized it: our networked systems depended on other systems for critical files….
The National Academies report Trust in Cyberspace recognized that the old TCB concept no longer made sense. (Disclaimer: I was on the committee.) Too many threats, such as Word macro viruses, lived purely at user level. Obviously, one could have arbitrarily classified word processors, spreadsheets, etc., as part of the TCB, but that would have been worse than useless; these things were too large and had no need for privileges.
In the 15+ years since then, no satisfactory replacement for the TCB model has been proposed.
We have a serious computer security problem. Everything depends on everything else, and security vulnerabilities in anything affects the security of everything. We simply don’t have the ability to maintain security in a world where we can’t trust the hardware and software we use.
This article was originally published at the Lawfare blog.
EDITED TO ADD (2/23): Another excellent article.
Last week, we learned about a striking piece of malware called Regin that has been infecting computer networks worldwide since 2008. It’s more sophisticated than any known criminal malware, and everyone believes a government is behind it. No country has taken credit for Regin, but there’s substantial evidence that it was built and operated by the United States.
This isn’t the first government malware discovered. GhostNet is believed to be Chinese. Red October and Turla are believed to be Russian. The Mask is probably Spanish. Stuxnet and Flame are probably from the U.S. All these were discovered in the past five years, and named by researchers who inferred their creators from clues such as who the malware targeted.
I dislike the “cyberwar” metaphor for espionage and hacking, but there is a war of sorts going on in cyberspace. Countries are using these weapons against each other. This affects all of us not just because we might be citizens of one of these countries, but because we are all potentially collateral damage. Most of the varieties of malware listed above have been used against nongovernment targets, such as national infrastructure, corporations, and NGOs. Sometimes these attacks are accidental, but often they are deliberate.
For their defense, civilian networks must rely on commercial security products and services. We largely rely on antivirus products from companies such as Symantec, Kaspersky, and F-Secure. These products continuously scan our computers, looking for malware, deleting it, and alerting us as they find it. We expect these companies to act in our interests, and never deliberately fail to protect us from a known threat.
This is why the recent disclosure of Regin is so disquieting. The first public announcement of Regin was from Symantec, on November 23. The company said that its researchers had been studying it for about a year, and announced its existence because they knew of another source that was going to announce it. That source was a news site, the Intercept, which described Regin and its U.S. connections the following day. Both Kaspersky and F-Secure soon published their own findings. Both stated that they had been tracking Regin for years. All three of the antivirus companies were able to find samples of it in their files since 2008 or 2009.
So why did these companies all keep Regin a secret for so long? And why did they leave us vulnerable for all this time?
To get an answer, we have to disentangle two things. Near as we can tell, all the companies had added signatures for Regin to their detection database long before last month. The VirusTotal website has a signature for Regin as of 2011. Both Microsoft security and F-Secure started detecting and removing it that year as well. Symantec has protected its users against Regin since 2013, although it certainly added the VirusTotal signature in 2011.
Entirely separately and seemingly independently, all of these companies decided not to publicly discuss Regin’s existence until after Symantec and the Intercept did so. Reasons given vary. Mikko Hyponnen of F-Secure said that specific customers asked him not to discuss the malware that had been found on their networks. Fox IT, which was hired to remove Regin from the Belgian phone company Belgacom’s website, didn’t say anything about what it discovered because it “didn’t want to interfere with NSA/GCHQ operations.”
My guess is that none of the companies wanted to go public with an incomplete picture. Unlike criminal malware, government-grade malware can be hard to figure out. It’s much more elusive and complicated. It is constantly updated. Regin is made up of multiple modules—Fox IT called it “a full framework of a lot of species of malware”—making it even harder to figure out what’s going on. Regin has also been used sparingly, against only a select few targets, making it hard to get samples. When you make a press splash by identifying a piece of malware, you want to have the whole story. Apparently, no one felt they had that with Regin.
That is not a good enough excuse, though. As nation-state malware becomes more common, we will often lack the whole story. And as long as countries are battling it out in cyberspace, some of us will be targets and the rest of us might be unlucky enough to be sitting in the blast radius. Military-grade malware will continue to be elusive.
Right now, antivirus companies are probably sitting on incomplete stories about a dozen more varieties of government-grade malware. But they shouldn’t. We want, and need, our antivirus companies to tell us everything they can about these threats as soon as they know them, and not wait until the release of a political story makes it impossible for them to remain silent.
This essay previously appeared in the MIT Technology Review.
Regin is another military–grade surveillance malware (tech details from Symantec and Kaspersky). It seems to have been in operation between 2008 and 2011. The Intercept has linked it to NSA/GCHQ operations, although I am still skeptical of the NSA/GCHQ hacking Belgian cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater.
EDITED TO ADD (12/10): More information.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.