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.

Attacks/Breaches

4/10/2017
03:30 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

CIA-Linked Hacking Tools Tied to Longhorn Cyber Espionage Group

Symantec matches tools exposed in Vault 7 documents leak reportedly from the CIA with those used by cyber espionage group that has been targeting governments and private businesses.

Researchers at Symantec have established a connection between the Vault 7 documents released by WikiLeaks and a cyberespionage group with a multi-year history of targeting governments and private companies. WikiLeaks says the tools in Vault 7 are from the CIA.

Symantec has been watching this group, nicknamed Longhorn, since 2014. The group has been active since at least 2011, with evidence of activity dating back to 2007.

In that time, it has used a range of methods, from backdoor Trojans to zero-day vulnerabilities, to compromise 40 targets in at least 16 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Researchers discovered one attack hit a computer in the US, but an uninstaller was immediately launched following the event -- a sign it was unintentional.

While Symantec didn't explicitly say Longhorn is the CIA, it concluded the group's tools bear similarities to those in the Vault 7 documents.

"Given the close similarities between the tools and techniques, there can be little doubt that Longhorn's activities and the Vault 7 documents are the work of the same group," the company wrote in a blog post.

For example, Vault 7 contains notes and feature release dates for a piece of malware called Fluxwire. The timeline is similar to Corentry, a Longhorn tool tracked by Symantec. According to samples obtained by Symantec, Corentry was consistently updated with new features on the same dates, or several days after, the dates listed in Vault 7.

"That's the biggest piece of evidence," says Eric Chien, director of Symantec Security Response, of the matching timelines. "It's sort of hard to argue with."

Another similarity was found between Vault 7 document Fire and Forget, a specification for installing malware modules through a tool called ArchAngel. The specification and interface used to load modules closely match a Longhorn tool called Plexor.

A third Vault 7 document includes cryptographic protocols for other malware tools, including the use of cryptography within SSL to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks, use of AES with a 32-bit key, and key exchange once per connections. All of these requirements are similar to cryptographic rules found in Longhorn.

Chien says the malware attack tools were built to spy on other countries. "Look at them as all-purpose backdoors," he says. "They can do anything on a machine that they would want with it."

The attacks have affected organizations in the energy, financial, telecom, aerospace, education, information technology, natural resources, and education industries. There is no trend indicating one type of industry is at greater risk, but they all have a common similarity.

"We're not seeing anything like financial attackers transferring money. Everything looks to be very espionage-related and state-espionage related," Chien says.

The activity recorded here is different from that exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, he continues. NSA aimed to gain access to infrastructure; for example, by compromising mail servers or DNS servers.

Longhorn's toolsets are designed differently. They use "human assets," or commissioned insiders, to launch attacks within an organization. Chien cites the example of a VLC multimedia application modified to accept commands and seek documents. The application would be given to an insider who would enter the business and launch the app so the hackers could seek documents of interest.

"They wouldn't use it unknowingly," he notes. "It was designed to give to someone who knew something was going on," but didn't know what was happening behind the scenes.

Following the Vault 7 leak, Chien says it's unlikely these specific tools will be deployed again by the cyber espionage group. He says the group will revamp their toolsets and come back.

Chien emphasizes that for businesses, this is "not just another threat." Businesses need to understand the dangers, revisit their threat models, and implement a comprehensive incident response procedure for such advanced attacks.

Related Content:

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2017 | 11:19:30 AM
Underground availability
That's the thing.  Top InfoSec execs/consultants already know that the hacker community has LONG known about the vulnerabilities exposed in the Wikileaks docs.

If enterprises had their cybersecurity teams/consultants spend more time lurking around the Dark Net, they'd probably find out about these things a lot quicker.
technicalaccademy
50%
50%
technicalaccademy,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2017 | 1:41:41 AM
Technology
Thanks for sharing the hacking tools tied to longhorn cyber espionage.
7 Tips for Infosec Pros Considering A Lateral Career Move
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/21/2020
For Mismanaged SOCs, The Price Is Not Right
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/22/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
IT 2020: A Look Ahead
Are you ready for the critical changes that will occur in 2020? We've compiled editor insights from the best of our network (Dark Reading, Data Center Knowledge, InformationWeek, ITPro Today and Network Computing) to deliver to you a look at the trends, technologies, and threats that are emerging in the coming year. Download it today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2015-3154
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
CRLF injection vulnerability in Zend\Mail (Zend_Mail) in Zend Framework before 1.12.12, 2.x before 2.3.8, and 2.4.x before 2.4.1 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary HTTP headers and conduct HTTP response splitting attacks via CRLF sequences in the header of an email.
CVE-2019-17190
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
A Local Privilege Escalation issue was discovered in Avast Secure Browser 76.0.1659.101. The vulnerability is due to an insecure ACL set by the AvastBrowserUpdate.exe (which is running as NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM) when AvastSecureBrowser.exe checks for new updates. When the update check is triggered, the...
CVE-2014-8161
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
PostgreSQL before 9.0.19, 9.1.x before 9.1.15, 9.2.x before 9.2.10, 9.3.x before 9.3.6, and 9.4.x before 9.4.1 allows remote authenticated users to obtain sensitive column values by triggering constraint violation and then reading the error message.
CVE-2014-9481
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
The Scribunto extension for MediaWiki allows remote attackers to obtain the rollback token and possibly other sensitive information via a crafted module, related to unstripping special page HTML.
CVE-2015-0241
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-27
The to_char function in PostgreSQL before 9.0.19, 9.1.x before 9.1.15, 9.2.x before 9.2.10, 9.3.x before 9.3.6, and 9.4.x before 9.4.1 allows remote authenticated users to cause a denial of service (crash) or possibly execute arbitrary code via a (1) large number of digits when processing a numeric ...