Threat Intelligence
5/31/2017
05:40 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

A Nation State-Looking Cyberattack that Wasn't

Symantec researchers uncover a cybercrime campaign with all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored campaign that didn't even make much money for the attackers.

Cybercriminals—like other criminals—have a penchant for going after low-hanging fruit. Few bother using sophisticated tools or exploits to break into systems if easier options are available.

It is rare therefore to find a malicious attacker taking the exact opposite approach, as security researchers at Symantec recently discovered when chasing down a targeted attack that was flagged by the company's automated notification system. The attack, on a Chinese automotive supplier's website, involved the use of surprisingly sophisticated tools and targeting and techniques for what Symantec later discovered were relatively meager gains.

"Going into this investigation, we thought there was a good chance this would be associated with a nation-state attacker," Symantec senior threat analyst Jon DiMaggio said in a blog. What the researchers uncovered instead was a campaign by a small parts shop in Moldova to steal and sell automotive diagnostic tools available legally for new at less than $1,100.

According to DiMaggio, Symantec's investigation started when the company's attack notification system discovered a custom keylogger along with two suspicious files back in March 2016. Symantec's analysis of the malware confirmed a new backdoor Trojan, which it dubbed Bachosens. The malware, once dropped on a system, created several files, which were designed to look like a legitimate Java application on the victim computer, in order to avoid detection.

One interesting aspect of the attack was the backdoor's use of a domain generation algorithm (DGA) to ensure that the command and control server with which it communicated would change based on the current date.

Attackers often use the DGA approach, instead of using a fixed IP address or domain, in order to make it harder for defenders to find and shut them down. Some malware can generate thousands of domains using their DGA. Bachosens itself though was designed to generate just 13 domains, DiMaggio said in the blog.

Black Hat USA returns to the fabulous Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 22-27, 2017. Click for information on the conference schedule and to register.

Symantec researchers had another surprise when looking into how the malware communicated with its command and control server. Unlike typical malware that use HTTP or HTTPS for communicating with a control server, Bachosens used DNS as the preferred communication method.

The author of the malware designed it to use DNS communications to establish contact with the C&C server. It then used the instructions encoded in the so-called AAAA response from the server to establish a covert communication channel between the victim computer and the C&C.

An AAAA is a 128-bit record type used by Domain Name Servers to communicate using IPv6 addresses, DiMaggio told Dark Reading. "Since this communication method is not intended for anything other than transmitting various records used to translate names to numbers, it is rare and a difficult task to use these records as a covert communication method to the adversary's infrastructure," he says.

Bachosens' use of encryption and DNS records for communicating with the attackers infrastructure made the traffic appear legitimate. "This shows the attacker was cognizant of how detection works and had the ability to code malware in a way that would be more complex and difficult to detect," DiMaggio says.  

The only other malware to use this type of covert communication was created by the NSA-affiliated Equation espionage group, he says.

The sophistication of the techniques initially led Symantec researchers to surmise they had discovered either a corporate espionage campaign, a financially motivated attack by an organized cybercrime gang, or a nation-state attacker with a sabotage motive.

Symantec's subsequent research, aided by some rookie mistakes on the part of the malware author, ultimately revealed that the campaign was instead targeted at stealing data about a relatively inexpensive handheld diagnostic device for automotive repair shops.

Related Content:

 

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
JulietteRizkallah
50%
50%
JulietteRizkallah,
User Rank: Ninja
6/6/2017 | 4:12:14 PM
Not an uncommon scenario
We will see more of these attacks coming from small "moms and pops" hacking operations. The reason? There is a vast market on the dark net that sells hacking tools to anyone. These tools are so easy to use, that one does not need to have any coding ability at all.  We saw trend this with DDoS attacks a few years back where it was as easy as copying/pasting a target url and click on "go". More recently we have seen ransomware tools for sale and so much more...
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: just wondering...Thanx
Current Issue
Security Operations and IT Operations: Finding the Path to Collaboration
A wide gulf has emerged between SOC and NOC teams that's keeping both of them from assuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of IT systems. Here's how experts think it should be bridged.
Flash Poll
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
The transition from DevOps to SecDevOps is combining with the move toward cloud computing to create new challenges - and new opportunities - for the information security team. Download this report, to learn about the new best practices for secure application development.
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
In past years, security researchers have discovered ways to hack cars, medical devices, automated teller machines, and many other targets. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts researcher Samy Kamkar and Levi Gundert, vice president of threat intelligence at Recorded Future, to discuss some of 2016's most unusual and creative hacks by white hats, and what these new vulnerabilities might mean for the coming year.