4 Unsolved Mysteries About Duqu 2.0

Several key questions remain surrounding the nation-state attack targeting intel at Kaspersky Lab, international participants at the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and other organizations.

Kaspersky Lab's revelation yesterday that it had been hacked by a nation-state apparently hungry for intelligence on its research and newest technologies aimed at thwarting the very same type of attacker rocked both the security and diplomatic communities. Although the security firm provided in-depth analysis of some of the code and zero-day exploits used by the attackers in the so-called Duqu 2.0 campaign, there a still a few key things Kaspersky Lab and other security experts studying the malware admit they don't know about the attacks.

Besides the obvious whodunit question -- none of the researchers would comment despite plenty of fingers pointing at Israel -- there are some other big unanswered questions about this bold cyber espionage campaign:


Were any other security companies hit besides Kaspersky Lab?

Symantec, FireEye, and Trend Micro all told Dark Reading they were not attacked by Duqu 2.0, and no other security vendors so far have come forward reporting a Duqu 2.0 infection. But given the stealthy way Duqu 2.0 operates in memory and disappears altogether when a system is rebooted -- the attackers can do this themselves to cover their tracks -- how can anyone be sure they aren't a victim?

"It's almost not possible to see in a computer system because there are no disk files, no registry changes, nothing," Eugene Kaspersky told reporters at a press briefing on the attack yesterday.

It took the company "a few months," he says, before it noticed something was awry and then researchers began to investigate a possible breach.

Kurt Baumgartner, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, which has released indicators of compromise it found for the attack, says there are more victims out there, for sure. "There is no doubt that this attack had a much wider geography and many more targets – we would say up to 100. But judging from what the company already knows, Duqu 2.0 has been used to attack the most complex targets of the highest level including geo-political interests," he says.


What zero-day exploit was used in the first step of the attack against Kaspersky?

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab were able to identify two of three zero-day exploits used in the Duqu 2.0 attack on the company, but are still trying to determine what vulnerability the attackers used against their initial victim, an employee in the Asia Pacific region that was infected via a spear phishing attack.

Baumgartner yesterday said it could be something exploiting CVE-2014-4148, which allows an attacker to get to kernel mode from a Word Document. But they have not yet confirmed the details on that first attack vector.

Nor has Symantec. "A big hole in our research is we don't know the infection vector of Duqu 2.0," says Vikram Thakur, senior manager of Symantec Security Response. "We're still looking at how the infections happened with our customers."


Exactly what the attackers stole.

Eugene Kaspersky said yesterday that the company does not know for sure what happened to the information that was accessed by the Duqu 2.0 attackers. "We're not really sure what they're looking for," he said.

Thakur says what stands out most about Duqu 2.0 is its ability to come and go: "It doesn't leave a file on your file system or computer ... and when with a restart, it's gone," he says. "The attackers did this on purpose because they were able to steal what they needed during the day and when they shut down, [the machine] was clean."

Thakur says his team is still analyzing the malware's modules, and they don't know yet how exactly the attacker exfiltrated data.

Other security experts say that because of the way Duqu 2.0 operates, Kaspersky Lab and other victims cannot be sure just information was stolen -- they may not be able to see all of the compromised data and systems.

Gautam Aggarwal, chief marketing officer at Bay Dynamics, says he thinks the attackers were searching for vulnerabilities in Kaspersky's Secure OS and Anti-APT products. "The fact that this Duqu 2.0 cyberattack was an in-memory attack [and] didn’t create or modify any disk files or system settings, it made detection almost impossible for" Kaspersky, he says.

"Once the attackers have a sense of what vulnerabilities exist in [Kaspersky Lab's] products and solutions, it becomes an easy vector for them to exploit and infiltrate customers running [those] products and solutions," he says.

Kaspersky Lab's role in investigating the original Duqu attack in 2011 is likely why it was targeted as well, he says. "It almost feels that the APT threat group used [Kaspersky Lab] as a pivot point for the Duqu 2.0 attack by breaching their internal defenses and driving a point home," he says.

"My sense is Kaspersky Lab is the beginning. We are bound to see more vendors" being targeted, he says.


What's the mysterious module that appears to have ICS/SCADA clues?

Costin Raiu, the director of Kaspersky Lab's global research and analysis team, this morning tweeted out a screen shot of the file names in one of Duqu 2.0's modules, asking, "Do you recognize these filenames and paths targeted by one of the cryptic #Duqu2 modules? Let us know."

Researchers were hammering away at the sample late today, but the acronym "HMI" shows up in the filename, suggesting an ICS/SCADA system connection. HMI stands for human-machine interface in the industrial product sector.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief 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 Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats, newly discovered vulnerabilities, data breach information, and emerging trends. Delivered daily or weekly right to your email inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights