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Backoff Malware Validates Targets Through Infected IP Cameras

RSA report on Backoff dives deeper into clues about the POS software and hints at attackers potentially located in India.

As retailers are in the grips of the last few shopping days of Christmas, they may not even know that cyber criminals quite literally have their eyes on their stores. A new report out this week from RSA Research Group about the POS malware Backoff postulates that the black hats may actually be targeting retail machines by validating they belong to a store through infections of IP-enabled surveillance cameras.

Earlier this summer, US-CERT widely warned businesses that Backoff, which at the time it said was "largely undetected by AV vendors," was infecting point-of-sale systems through brute force attacks against remote desktop software.

"While this may be true, it still doesn't explain the whole picture due to a critical missing detail -- how were they able to determine if a target computer belongs to a business or a store?" RSA researchers wrote.

In the ensuing months, these researchers have been collecting data about Backoff and through that work surmise that the attackers likely needed to come up with a technique to figure out "whether a targeted IP actually belongs to a business and not just an RDP service open on a personal computer" and which would "allow them to operate on a large scale." One correlation they found was that a large number of Backoff attacks seemed to be paired with the exposure of camera surveillance services. They believe this was no coincidence.

"Our assumption is that the fraudsters figured out that the combination of RDP service and cam surveillance service both exposed to the internet provides a fairly logical indication of a possible business, and therefore a proper target," the report said.

RSA also questioned whether the use of brute force on RDP services really is the main intrusion technique by these Backoff attacks.

"According to our observations regarding the compromised machines, we can say that it's very likely that additional techniques have been employed, such as guessing default passwords for routers and cam surveillance control panels, and using known exploits against these service," they explained.

In addition to this added insight about Backoff attack techniques, RSA's researchers also took a stab at attribution in the report. Two pieces of data led them to believe that the source of Backoff may be located somewhere in India. First, they were able to trace requests from someone accessing the malware's C&C control panel. While the IP address of the request came from a hosting server in the Netherlands, the user's browser was set to India Standard Time.

Meanwhile, while looking into various Backoff samples, they ran into a sample submitted to VirusTotal that wasn't packed that looked to be "freshly created and output from the compiler." They guessed that it very well could have been submitted by the malware's author for AV testing purposes, but the sample allowed them to examine the binary and determine its origins to be from India. 

Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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