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Attacks/Breaches

New Gauss Exploit May Be Cousin Of Flame, Stuxnet

A sophisticated banking Trojan, Gauss targets users in the Middle East, Kaspersky says

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab say they have discovered a new, sophisticated online banking exploit that bears striking resemblance to the Flame, Duqu, and Stuxnet attacks.

The exploit, dubbed "Gauss," is a complex, nation-state-sponsored cyberespionage toolkit designed to steal sensitive data from users in the Middle East, according to a report on the Gauss exploitposted on Thursday. It focuses on stealing browser passwords, online banking account credentials, cookies, and specific configurations of infected machines.

While Flame, Duqu, and Stuxnet focused on infecting industrial control systems, Gauss contains an online banking Trojan not found in its cousins, Kaspersky says.

Gauss was discovered during the course of the ongoing effort initiated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) after the discovery of Flame. The effort, which brings together contributors from governments and the private sector, is aimed at mitigating the risks posed by cyberweapons.

Researchers discovered Gauss by identifying commonalities with Flame. Gauss and Flame share similar architectural platforms, module structures, code bases, and means of communication with command-and-control (C&C) servers, Kaspersky says.

Gauss began operations around September 2011 and was discovered in June. The Gauss C&C infrastructure was shut down last month, shortly after its discovery, the researchers say. Currently, the malware is in a dormant state, waiting for its C&C servers to become active.

Since late May 2012, more than 2,500 infections were recorded by Kaspersky Lab, and the total number of victims may be in the tens of thousands -- not as many as Stuxnet, but more than Flame and Duqu.

According to an in-depth analysis of Gauss, the exploit was designed to steal data from several Lebanese banks, including the Bank of Beirut, EBLF, BlomBank, ByblosBank, FransaBank, and Credit Libanais, the researchers say. It also targets users of Citibank and PayPal.

Named after the German mathematician Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, Gauss collects information from browsers, including the history of visited websites and passwords. The Trojan also collects data on the infected machine, including specifics of network interfaces, the computer’s drives, and BIOS information.

Gauss also has the ability to infect USB thumb drives, using the same LNK vulnerability that was previously used in Stuxnet and Flame. Unlike those earlier exploits, however, Gauss is capable of "disinfecting" the drive under certain circumstances, and uses the removable media to store collected information in a hidden file.

While Gauss is similar to Flame in design, the geography of infections is different, Kaspersky says. While Flame was recorded mostly in Iran, the majority of Gauss victims were located in Lebanon.

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Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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