Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Application Security

Researchers Build Framework for Browser-Based Botnets

HTML5 used to build persistent malware on victims' computers.

Researchers have created a new framework dubbed MarioNet that allows an attacker to control a victim's browser and all of its resources.

Modern browsers have become more than simple windows into HTML documents; instead, they are "sophisticated browsing software that essentially behaves as an integrated operating system for web applications," according to new research presented today at Network and Distributed Systems Security (NDSS) Symposium 2019.

The researchers - Panagiotis Papadopoulos, Panagiotis Ilia, Michalis Polychronakis, Evangelos P. Markatos, Sotiris Ioannidis, and Giorgos Vasiliadis - devised a framework for building persistent malicious networks on a browser-based foundation, which they detailed in their paper "Master of Web Puppets: Abusing Web Browsers for Persistent and Stealthy Computation."

The power of malware that uses HTML5 and other browser-based software as an attack component stems from the fact that, by default, Web applications are understood to be trusted and can run client-side JavaScript code with no natural limitations.

MarioNet is a three-step system involving components the researchers call the distributor, servant, and puppeteer. And it is these three components and the persistence they enable that make MarioNet something new.

The distributor is the infection piece, placing the rest of the package on the victim's browser from a single visit to an infected website. The servant is the piece that becomes embedded in the victim's browser, executing the malicious payload as directed by the puppeteer. 

The puppeteer remains on the victim's system, communicating with a C2 server, directing the execution of malicious code, and controlling the code's use of computer resources in order to remain as elusive and evasive as possible.

"The immediate interest is persistence. The paper mentions that these infected sites, however they're infected, they can have the infection piece removed [and] the attack persists," says Mike Bittner, associate director of digital security and operations at The Media Trust. "That attack can take many forms, including DDoS traffic engines and cryptominers, credential skimmers, and banking remote-access Trojans."

Usman Rahim, digital threat analyst at The Media Trust, says this new threat is critical because malicious hackers have been figuring out how to weaponize HTML5's features.

"They've been using obfuscation/deobfuscation JavaScript to disguise malicious code. Now they can use service workers — scripts that offer rich online experiences, push notifications, and background syncs — to gain control of users' browsers long after users have left the compromised site and to help attacks persist despite browser reboots," Rahim says.

MarioNet is an evolution of the threat possible through HTML5. While there has been a growing trend of malware built on HTML5, Bittner says, "It's a trend to make the browser an attack surface. The ability to communicate with a third party over the browser, though, is something you don't see very often."

The research raises another issue: academic computer researchers presenting details of an attack mechanism that had not previously been seen in the wild.  "It's a double-edged sword. It's good because people like me have something to look out for and defend against, but it may be something that people didn't know about before and can now take advantage of."

"From a security professional aspect it's something I wish we could share just among ourselves, but I think the good outweighs the bad," he says.

Related Content:

 

 

 

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop 2019. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop agenda here.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
97% of Americans Can't Ace a Basic Security Test
Steve Zurier, Contributing Writer,  5/20/2019
TeamViewer Admits Breach from 2016
Dark Reading Staff 5/20/2019
How a Manufacturing Firm Recovered from a Devastating Ransomware Attack
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  5/20/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-7844
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-22
Adobe Media Encoder version 13.0.2 has an out-of-bounds read vulnerability. Successful exploitation could lead to information disclosure.
CVE-2017-9809
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-22
OX Software GmbH OX App Suite 7.8.4 and earlier is affected by: Information Exposure.
CVE-2018-12886
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-22
stack_protect_prologue in cfgexpand.c and stack_protect_epilogue in function.c in GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) 4.1 through 8 (under certain circumstances) generate instruction sequences when targeting ARM targets that spill the address of the stack protector guard, which allows an attacker to bypas...
CVE-2019-7834
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-22
Adobe Acrobat and Reader versions 2019.010.20100 and earlier, 2019.010.20099 and earlier, 2017.011.30140 and earlier, 2017.011.30138 and earlier, 2015.006.30495 and earlier, and 2015.006.30493 and earlier have a use after free vulnerability. Successful exploitation could lead to arbitrary code execu...
CVE-2019-7835
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-22
Adobe Acrobat and Reader versions 2019.010.20100 and earlier, 2019.010.20099 and earlier, 2017.011.30140 and earlier version, 2017.011.30138 and earlier, 2015.006.30495 and earlier, and 2015.006.30493 and earlier have a use after free vulnerability. Successful exploitation could lead to arbitrary co...