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.

Risk

Drive-By Downloads: Malware's Most Popular Distribution Method

After years of burying malicious software in email and portable storage media, attackers now favor quick downloads via legitimate websites, researcher says

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- OWASP AppSec DC 2010 -- Why try to fool users into opening email attachments when you can simply drop a Trojan on them from their favorite websites?

That's the question many malware authors and distributors are asking -- and the obvious answer is spurring most of them to try out the emerging "drive-by download" method, according to a speaker here this week.

"What we're seeing is a fundamental change in the method of malware distribution," said Neil Daswani, CTO of Dasient, which offers a service that detects and eradicates Web-borne malware. "In the old days, we saw executable code in a static file, which was originally delivered via floppy disks and then via email attachments. Now we're seeing active content delivered via drive-by downloads at legitimate sites."

A drive-by download typically begins by injecting a Web page with malicious code, often through JavaScript, Daswani explained. The code generally invokes a client-side vulnerability to deliver shell code, such as the JavaScript-based Heap Spray attack, to take control of the user's machine. From there, the attacker can send a "downloader," which is often custom, zero-day code that isn't recognized by traditional antivirus systems.

Once the downloader is in place, the attacker can deliver his malware of choice, Daswani said. Drive-by downloads are particularly effective for delivering code that can steal end user credentials (such as Zeus), launch a fake antivirus scam (such as Koobface), steal server-side administrative credentials (such as Gumblar), steal corporate secrets (such as Project Aurora), or collect fraudulent click revenue (such as clickbot.A), he noted.

While drive-by downloads are often more effective at infecting end user devices than email attachments, they also give the attacker broader reach, Daswani observed. Drive-by downloads can be used to infect thousands of websites at once, often by hiding in common third-party devices that are distributed to many sites, such as advertisements, widgets, images, or third-party applications.

"A lot of user organizations do a great job of scanning the code they put on their own sites, but they may not scan the code they're posting from third parties," Daswani warned. "The marketing people will add an ad or a widget to a site, and the IT people may not vet it before it's posted."

Many well-known sites are infected by malware, and the most popular sites are generally targeted most frequently, Daswani noted. In the past two years, major government sites, such as the Treasury Department and Environmental Protection Agency, have been infected, causing them to serve up drive-by downloads to their users. The National Institute of Health has been infected five times in the past two years, and the state of Alabama's website has been infected 37 times in that same time period, he reported.

"It's time to recognize that this is the method of choice for many distributors of malware," Daswani said.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

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

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Data Leak Week: Billions of Sensitive Files Exposed Online
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/10/2019
Intel Issues Fix for 'Plundervolt' SGX Flaw
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/11/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-5252
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
There is an improper authentication vulnerability in Huawei smartphones (Y9, Honor 8X, Honor 9 Lite, Honor 9i, Y6 Pro). The applock does not perform a sufficient authentication in a rare condition. Successful exploit could allow the attacker to use the application locked by applock in an instant.
CVE-2019-5235
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
Some Huawei smart phones have a null pointer dereference vulnerability. An attacker crafts specific packets and sends to the affected product to exploit this vulnerability. Successful exploitation may cause the affected phone to be abnormal.
CVE-2019-5264
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
There is an information disclosure vulnerability in certain Huawei smartphones (Mate 10;Mate 10 Pro;Honor V10;Changxiang 7S;P-smart;Changxiang 8 Plus;Y9 2018;Honor 9 Lite;Honor 9i;Mate 9). The software does not properly handle certain information of applications locked by applock in a rare condition...
CVE-2019-5277
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Huawei CloudUSM-EUA V600R006C10;V600R019C00 have an information leak vulnerability. Due to improper configuration, the attacker may cause information leak by successful exploitation.
CVE-2019-5254
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Certain Huawei products (AP2000;IPS Module;NGFW Module;NIP6300;NIP6600;NIP6800;S5700;SVN5600;SVN5800;SVN5800-C;SeMG9811;Secospace AntiDDoS8000;Secospace USG6300;Secospace USG6500;Secospace USG6600;USG6000V;eSpace U1981) have an out-of-bounds read vulnerability. An attacker who logs in to the board m...