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.


07:50 AM
Connect Directly

Viruses Without Borders

Hackers test a new generation of malware that attacks multiple platforms simultaneously

What if your smartphone could infect your laptop? Proof-of-concept code is out for malware that infects multiple operating system platforms simultaneously. This multiplatform -- or hybrid -- virus is typically aimed at both mobile devices and desktop machines.

Most malware today is written to attack a specific platform or application. But with mobile phones, PDAs, Bluetooth, and laptops, the standard tools of many users today, researchers say it's no surprise attackers would come up with ways to initiate an exploit that spans all of these platforms at once.

"The threat is real. There's proof-of-concept that multiplatform [viruses] do exist and some have been found in the wild," says Shane Coursen, senior technical consultant for Kaspersky Lab.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for F-Secure, says so far his research team has only seen this malware in proof-of-concept code. "There's a real possibility of something more than proof-of-concept coming around the corner."

And so far, the good news is writers of this malware are more "old-school" hackers trying to win bragging rights for being the first to design such exploits rather than more profit-minded cybercriminals, Hypponen says.

The most popular of these is Mobler, a worm that F-Secure first discovered in late August. Mobler infects both Symbian Series 6 smartphones and Windows. Its dispersal requires physical effort on the user's part, however: The user would have to take a memory card from his smartphone and load it onto his PC to transfer photos or other apps, for instance. Mobler then would try to trick the user into clicking on a file that looks like a system folder icon, for example, to infect the PC, Hypponen says.

And this malware can continue propagating. "If you later stick another memory card from another phone onto that PC, it infects that phone, too," he adds.

This obviously wouldn't spread anything like an Internet worm since it relies on the user (unknowingly) physically moving it from device to device.

But if Bluetooth is in the picture, a multiplatform/hybrid virus could spread more readily. Hyponnen says, in the future, a laptop user with Bluetooth in a coffee shop could get hacked by an infected smartphone. "The infected phone could see you're a Bluetooth laptop and figure out you're running Windows [via the Bluetooth fingerprint] and send you a binary file," he says. "This wireless world we're living in will enable multiplatform viruses to jump" from one platform to another more easily.

The user would have to accept the file, of course, to get infected. But a little social engineering, Hyponnen says, goes a long way. These hybrid viruses are more difficult to write, too, and would have separate copies of the virus for each platform: "So when Mobler is running on a PC, the PC virus carries a copy of the Symbian virus," for example.

While these viruses are not a big problem yet today, security experts say to be on the lookout and to shore up user policies.

"It's not going to be a real serious threat until organized crime finds a way to make money with it," says Randy Abrams, director of technical education for Eset. "It's now a low-yield thing -- users are not transferring near the amount of money on smartphones as they are on PCs, so it's not yet attractive to go after from a financial standpoint."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • ESET
  • F-Secure Corp.
  • Kaspersky Lab Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor 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 ... View Full Bio

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
    Dark Reading Staff 9/21/2020
    Cybersecurity Bounces Back, but Talent Still Absent
    Simone Petrella, Chief Executive Officer, CyberVista,  9/16/2020
    Meet the Computer Scientist Who Helped Push for Paper Ballots
    Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  9/16/2020
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Latest Comment: Exactly
    Current Issue
    Special Report: Computing's New Normal
    This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
    Flash Poll
    How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
    How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
    The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-22
    In mainwindow.cpp in Shotcut before 20.09.13, the upgrade check misuses TLS because of setPeerVerifyMode(QSslSocket::VerifyNone). A man-in-the-middle attacker could offer a spoofed download resource.
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-22
    Telestream Tektronix Medius before 10.7.5 and Sentry before 10.7.5 have a SQL injection vulnerability allowing an unauthenticated attacker to dump database contents via the page parameter in a page=login request to index.php (aka the server login page).
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-22
    All versions of package cabot are vulnerable to Cross-site Scripting (XSS) via the Endpoint column.
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-21
    Inappropriate implementation in permissions in Google Chrome prior to 85.0.4183.83 allowed a remote attacker to spoof the contents of a permission dialog via a crafted HTML page.
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-21
    Inappropriate implementation in Omnibox in Google Chrome on iOS prior to 85.0.4183.83 allowed a remote attacker to spoof the contents of the Omnibox (URL bar) via a crafted HTML page.