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

9/17/2014
05:55 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Cyberspies Resuscitate Citadel Trojan For Petrochemical Attacks

The Citadel Trojan is a rare and odd choice of malware for cyber espionage purposes, experts say.

A newly discovered cyberspying campaign targeting petrochemical firms in the Middle East has security researchers baffled over its use of a variant of the old banking Trojan Citadel.

IBM Trusteer researchers recently found evidence of the attacks, which targeted one of the largest petrochemical product companies in the Middle East, a raw petrochemical materials supplier in the region, and other victims which IBM would not name.

Dana Tamir, director of enterprise security at Trusteer, an IBM company, says this was the first time her team had seen Citadel used in a cyberspying operation for stealing corporate information or accessing corporate email servers. Citadel, which was built for stealing banking credentials, typically using man-in-the middle browser attacks, is no longer supported and upgraded by its author.

"APTs in the past used highly customized malware and delivery. This is no longer the case. These Trojans are already massively distributed," Tamir says. One in 500 machines worldwide is infected with this type of "massively distributed" malware at any time, according to IBM Trusteer's data.

Tamir says the team doesn't know how the attackers first infected the machines. The command and control server had already been taken offline by the time her team got access to the configuration file. "We don't know who's behind it or which region it was coming from."

With mainstream financial Trojans like Citadel being used for cyber espionage, the attackers can cast a wider net with the malware and merely filter out the desired targets. "On the one hand, it's opportunistic," where the attackers filter out the infected victims of the industries or companies on which they want to spy. "But they are very targeted in the configuration file specifically. If they see a machine that belongs to these targets," they start stealing the information they want.

"This massively distributed malware means they don't need sophisticated ways to attack" their targets, Tamir says. Banking Trojans make infections more efficient and don't require the attackers to have significant intelligence up front about their targets.

In the Citadel-based attack, the malware looks for certain URL addresses of webmail for the targeted firms, for instance, and it intercepts the infected user's HTTP POST data, including login credentials to webmail.  That gives the attackers instant inside access to the target.

[At least two different cyber espionage gangs in China appear to be employing uniform tools and techniques. Read Franchising The Chinese APT.]

Cyber espionage gangs have been evolving toward more efficient and streamlined attacks. FireEye recently revealed that two Chinese APT gangs known for targeting very different industries were recently spotted using some of the same or similar tactics, tools, and resources. Researchers at AlienVault Labs have seen different Chinese APTs sharing zero-day exploits, for example.

Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and CTO of CrowdStrike, says his team also has never seen Citadel used in a cyber espionage campaign before. Citadel, which is no longer being supported by its authors, seems a bizarre option, since it's not the best way to avoid detection. "It's not the best tool you want to use in avoiding detection. Zeus would have been much better," mainly because it continues to get updated features for evading detection.

"The fact that they used Citadel when it's obsolete tells me either they don't know what they are doing" or the attackers aren't very experienced, he says.

Alperovitch doubts the attackers came out of Iran, because most Iranian APTs are now creating their own custom malware.

The big thing CrowdStrike is seeing are Chinese APT groups moving away from using malware in their exfiltration phase. "They want to avoid being noisy, so they typically break in and steal credentials so they have access in the network and operate as insiders."

They still have to use some form of malware to steal credentials, of course, but the actual spying and stealing is executed manually.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
securityaffairs
50%
50%
securityaffairs,
User Rank: Ninja
9/18/2014 | 4:14:11 PM
Re: The powerful Citadel
Hi Robert,

you are right!

 
Robert McDougal
50%
50%
Robert McDougal,
User Rank: Ninja
9/18/2014 | 3:58:56 PM
Re: The powerful Citadel
This may just be a case of "Why reinvent the wheel".  The attackers were able to infect the targets systems with Citadel so why go through the trouble of developing custom code when off the shelf will work.
securityaffairs
50%
50%
securityaffairs,
User Rank: Ninja
9/18/2014 | 10:18:55 AM
Re: The powerful Citadel
Probably the attackers already used Citadel in the past or probably the rent the infrastructure from Third party.

Anyway Citadel in a malware directly derived by Zeus that is still evolving in time, but that suffered major operations from law enforcement in the last months.

 
Kelly Jackson Higgins
50%
50%
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
9/18/2014 | 10:12:26 AM
Re: The powerful Citadel
@securityaffairs What do you think about their using Citadel instead of Zeus? 
securityaffairs
50%
50%
securityaffairs,
User Rank: Ninja
9/18/2014 | 10:11:00 AM
The powerful Citadel
Citadel malware is a very powerful bat and flexible, it could represent an excellent choice option for APTs. Citadel features allow any attacker to quickly operate a cyber espionage campaign, consider also that in the underground many groups offer ready-to-use Citadel botnet for rent.

We will more and more of Citadel targeting many other industries.

Regards

Pierluigi

 

 
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 5/28/2020
Stay-at-Home Orders Coincide With Massive DNS Surge
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  5/27/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: Can you smell me now?
Current Issue
How Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs Work (and Why Some Don't)
This Tech Digest takes a look at the vital role cybersecurity incident response (IR) plays in managing cyber-risk within organizations. Download the Tech Digest today to find out how well-planned IR programs can detect intrusions, contain breaches, and help an organization restore normal operations.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-11844
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
There is an Incorrect Authorization vulnerability in Micro Focus Service Management Automation (SMA) product affecting version 2018.05 to 2020.02. The vulnerability could be exploited to provide unauthorized access to the Container Deployment Foundation.
CVE-2020-6937
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
A Denial of Service vulnerability in MuleSoft Mule CE/EE 3.8.x, 3.9.x, and 4.x released before April 7, 2020, could allow remote attackers to submit data which can lead to resource exhaustion.
CVE-2020-7648
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
All versions of snyk-broker before 4.72.2 are vulnerable to Arbitrary File Read. It allows arbitrary file reads for users who have access to Snyk's internal network by appending the URL with a fragment identifier and a whitelisted path e.g. `#package.json`
CVE-2020-7650
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
All versions of snyk-broker after 4.72.0 including and before 4.73.1 are vulnerable to Arbitrary File Read. It allows arbitrary file reads to users with access to Snyk's internal network of any files ending in the following extensions: yaml, yml or json.
CVE-2020-7654
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
All versions of snyk-broker before 4.73.1 are vulnerable to Information Exposure. It logs private keys if logging level is set to DEBUG.