Perimeter
5/17/2011
08:24 AM
Gunter Ollmann
Gunter Ollmann
Products and Releases
50%
50%

Today's Crimeware Life Cycle

Advanced malware is a slippery beast, but understanding its crime life cycle offers hope for successful defense strategies

As an industry, we've spent an inordinate amount of time characterizing the malware we observe propagating the Internet or breaching our corporate defenses. Because of our capability to label so many varieties and features, we've become hypnotized by the intricacies of the software element of the threat. Malware is the threat. And today we're being even drawn even further in to the trance with "advanced malware."

For those actually charged with the day-to-day defense of their corporate systems, the malware threat can typically be divided neatly in to two components -- malware delivery channels that bypass layers of corporate defenses, and the malware component that gets left behind on the compromised system. The "advanced" form of the threat basically translates to being "better" at the evasion part and having enhanced remote control functionality.

The past decade saw the threat transition from annoying virus to destructive malware. For the past few years, the threat has evolved further -- in to the realm of financially driven crimeware. Despite all the public attention this transition has garnered, few appreciate the changes going on behind the scene.

Instead of admiring the fine brushstrokes of a painting, sometimes you need to stand back a little to take in the picture as a whole. The hypnotic allure of malware dissections and high-profile breaches has prevented many organizations from understanding the dynamics of the real threat -- crimeware and the ecosystem that supports it.

Even those that know their droppers from their downloaders too often fail to grasp the relationships between the vendors, service providers, and tool manufacturers that contributed to the success of an attack. Add to that an increasingly false and outdated assumption of an attack is the personification of an "attacker." It's far more likely that many hands were involved in constructing and delivering the attack -- most of whom had no idea of who else was involved and not caring to know.

Back in the days when malware was just malware, a malicious dropper would be downloaded from a server the bad guys owned (or hacked) following the successful exploitation of a vulnerability within the victim's Web browser or via an unpatched plug-in. That dropper would then automatically unpack itself, extract its malicious payload, deactivate or prevent any local defenses from working, and finally start its core remote control agent -- making an outbound connection to a command-and-control (CnC) server and seeking instructions.

With evolution proceeding from malware to crimeware, the installation life cycle has changed substantially. In an effort to thwart the layers of defense deployed within the network or on the host, many additional steps have been introduced by the attackers -- a lot of which are not only subcontracted to third-party service providers, but have become full-scale businesses in their own right, operating in legal gray areas.

The crimeware installation process also incorporates a number of checks and balances designed to increase the robustness of the attack against detection and deception. Having invested substantial time and materials into an attack among multiple vested parties, cybercriminals are loathe to have their malware fall prey to automated analysis systems and honeypots. As such, they have incorporated steps that validate the authenticity of the victim prior to installation of the core crimeware components. From a service provisioning perspective, the new infection life cycle enhances the overall ecosystem and provides additional monetization opportunities.

For a more detailed dissection of the threat (as it stands today), I've released a new whitepaper -- "Behind Today's Crimeware Installation Lifecycle" -- covering how advanced malware morphs to remain stealthy and persistent. Understanding your opponent remains at the heart of a sound defensive strategy. In this case, though, your "opponent" shouldn't be thought of in a singular sense, but rather an increasingly well-oiled federated cybercrime ecosystem.

Gunter Ollmann is research vice president at Damballa. Gunter Ollmann serves as CTO for IOActive Inc. where he is responsible for the strategic vision of the security services portfolio, driving new research areas and bringing new services to market. With over two decades in the information security arena, Gunter has stared down ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Title Partner’s Role in Perimeter Security
Title Partner’s Role in Perimeter Security
Considering how prevalent third-party attacks are, we need to ask hard questions about how partners and suppliers are safeguarding systems and data.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-6501
Published: 2015-03-30
The default soap.wsdl_cache_dir setting in (1) php.ini-production and (2) php.ini-development in PHP through 5.6.7 specifies the /tmp directory, which makes it easier for local users to conduct WSDL injection attacks by creating a file under /tmp with a predictable filename that is used by the get_s...

CVE-2014-9652
Published: 2015-03-30
The mconvert function in softmagic.c in file before 5.21, as used in the Fileinfo component in PHP before 5.4.37, 5.5.x before 5.5.21, and 5.6.x before 5.6.5, does not properly handle a certain string-length field during a copy of a truncated version of a Pascal string, which might allow remote atta...

CVE-2014-9653
Published: 2015-03-30
readelf.c in file before 5.22, as used in the Fileinfo component in PHP before 5.4.37, 5.5.x before 5.5.21, and 5.6.x before 5.6.5, does not consider that pread calls sometimes read only a subset of the available data, which allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (uninitialized memory ...

CVE-2014-9705
Published: 2015-03-30
Heap-based buffer overflow in the enchant_broker_request_dict function in ext/enchant/enchant.c in PHP before 5.4.38, 5.5.x before 5.5.22, and 5.6.x before 5.6.6 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code via vectors that trigger creation of multiple dictionaries.

CVE-2014-9709
Published: 2015-03-30
The GetCode_ function in gd_gif_in.c in GD 2.1.1 and earlier, as used in PHP before 5.5.21 and 5.6.x before 5.6.5, allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (buffer over-read and application crash) via a crafted GIF image that is improperly handled by the gdImageCreateFromGif function.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Good hackers--aka security researchers--are worried about the possible legal and professional ramifications of President Obama's new proposed crackdown on cyber criminals.