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

10/17/2014
05:10 PM
50%
50%

Sophisticated Malvertising Campaign Targets US Defense Industry

Dubbed Operation DeathClick, the campaign puts a new twist on an old method of infecting users.

Malvertising is not something organizations normally associate with cyber espionage. But new research from Invincea may change that.

In a report, the security firm outlined an advanced persistent threat (APT) campaign it has dubbed "Operation DeathClick," targeting the US defense industry. Invincea has spotted more than two dozen micro-targeted attacks since September that are linked to the campaign. The objective of these attacks is likely intellectual property theft -- not ad fraud -- leading researchers to believe the perpetrators are advanced threat actors.

Within the last six months, the company has discovered and stopped targeted malvertising attacks against specific companies -- particularly those in the defense industry, according to the report.

"The combination of traditional cyber crime methods (malvertising) with targeted attacks against defense industrials for theft of IP represents another development in the ongoing blending of techniques from cyber crime and advanced threat actors with nation state agendas," the report says.

Traditional malvertising is used for click fraud, says Pat Belcher, director of security analytics at Invincea.

"In this campaign, the attacks appear intended to establish a remote persistent beachhead for the attackers into the defense/aerospace company networks," he says. "The types of malware we've seen in Operation DeathClick are typically backdoor trojans and attempts to enroll hosts in botnets. If a beachhead had been successfully established, the attackers would most likely move laterally across the network and perform other malicious actions, up to and including exfiltration of data."

The campaign uses what Invincea calls a micro-targeting system that utilizes IP address ranges, geographically narrowed-down ZIP codes, and information about user interests to target specific companies, types of companies, and user interests. The attackers are also using real-time bidding (RTB) to guarantee malicious ad delivery to the intended targets of the campaign. In real-time bidding, advertising buyers bid on an impression. If the bid is won, the buyer's ad gets displayed on the publisher's site.

"RTB micro-targeting can easily, and likely has already, replaced watering hole style attacks," says Belcher. "Why bother to compromise specific sites and wait for your target to visit when you can self-host an exploit kit and point a malvertizing cannon at your intended victim directly? It's easier, cheaper, and the likelihood of getting caught is much, much lower."

According to Invincea, the attackers redirect their ads for just minutes at a time and then abandon their exploit kit pages forever. As a result, list-based threat intelligence feeds are ineffective against them. In addition, the domains used do not appear in any proxy blacklist, and the malware droppers delivered by the exploit pages always employ different signatures, thereby evading traditional network and endpoint detection technology.

"Anyone can sign up to participate in real-time bidding anonymously and fund their campaigns from third-party payment providers such as PayPal," Belcher says. "Advertisers, and thus, malvertisers, are able to win bids that will point to normal ad content or redirect to self-hosted landing pages that are only online for minutes at a time."

For each winning ad bid, there is an ad bidder that can be tracked by his unique user ID or campaign profile, he says. However, since anyone can sign up for real-time ad bidding anonymously, the best that could be hoped is known malicious bidders could have their accounts suspended -- but even then, an attacker could re-register and start a new campaign under a different username.

The full report can be read here.

Brian Prince is a freelance writer for a number of IT security-focused publications. Prior to becoming a freelance reporter, he worked at eWEEK for five years covering not only security, but also a variety of other subjects in the tech industry. Before that, he worked as a ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Truths About BEC Scams
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  6/13/2019
DNS Firewalls Could Prevent Billions in Losses to Cybercrime
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  6/13/2019
Cognitive Bias Can Hamper Security Decisions
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  6/10/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
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
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-12855
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-16
In words.protocols.jabber.xmlstream in Twisted through 19.2.1, XMPP support did not verify certificates when used with TLS, allowing an attacker to MITM connections.
CVE-2013-7472
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-15
The "Count per Day" plugin before 3.2.6 for WordPress allows XSS via the wp-admin/?page=cpd_metaboxes daytoshow parameter.
CVE-2019-12839
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-15
In OrangeHRM 4.3.1 and before, there is an input validation error within admin/listMailConfiguration (txtSendmailPath parameter) that allows authenticated attackers to achieve arbitrary command execution.
CVE-2019-12840
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-15
In Webmin through 1.910, any user authorized to the "Package Updates" module can execute arbitrary commands with root privileges via the data parameter to update.cgi.
CVE-2019-12835
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-15
formats/xml.cpp in Leanify 0.4.3 allows for a controlled out-of-bounds write in xml_memory_writer::write via characters that require escaping.