10:49 AM

Sykipot Malware Steals Pentagon Smart-Card Credentials

Malware out of China challenges two-factor authentication schemes used by Defense Department, other organizations.

An infamous family of malware used in cyberespionage attacks out of China can now hijack a user's smart-card credentials.

Researchers at AlienVault have discovered a new variant of the Sykipot malware family that steals smart-card credentials of Department of Defense (DOD) and other users. Sykipot has been in action since around 2007 for launching targeted attacks via spear-phishing emails to the DOD community. And that community employs PC/SC x509 smart cards for multifactor authentication of its users.

The new Sykipot variant appears to have been in the wild for months: Researcher Jaime Blasco found that it was first compiled in March 2011, and since then it has been spotted in dozens of attack samples. Blasco says he has no information on whether the attackers were successful in pilfering DOD or other smart-card credentials, but his lab has proved that it works, so it's likely to have been used in some hacks.

"We have tested the malware and, in fact, it is working," Blasco said. "It's likely they got inside protected systems and gained access using this malware."

AlienVault researchers believe one group of attackers is and has been behind the malware. "We believe it's the same group of attackers. They have been using the same techniques, even sharing some parts of the code in other attacks," Blasco said. "It's related to another one we reported a month ago."

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