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.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

7/12/2012
07:10 PM
50%
50%

Crimeware Developers Shift To More Obfuscation, Java Exploits

After making their code harder to reverse-engineer, exploit kits are now focusing on improving attacks

When Microsoft patched a vulnerability in the Windows XML Core Services this week, malware authors had already been exploiting the flaw in successful attacks through Internet Explorer, most notably as part of the Blackhole exploit kit.

Click here for more of Dark Reading's Black Hat articles.

While the authors of that exploit kit had focused last year on making the code harder to reverse-engineer, more recently they have bulked up the software's store of useful exploits, says Jason Jones, lead for the advanced security intelligence team at Hewlett-Packard's DVLabs, who will present his research on exploit kits at the Black Hat USA security conference later this month. In the past year, the authors of the Blackhole kit have augmented the program with a handful of successful attacks against Java vulnerabilities, as well as those in Internet Explorer.

"The authors of these kits are seeing what works well, and then they work to improve it, and they also work really hard at trying to keep their code out of security researchers' hands at the same time," Jones says. "These people take their jobs fairly seriously, and they also want to keep making money."

The focus on adding more exploits, especially Java exploits, has been a common trend among other such kits, he says. While the focus on compromising systems through the XML Core Services vulnerability is a departure from that, other toolkits -- such as the Phoenix toolkit and several programs being produced by Chinese groups -- have also focused on Java, he says.

[ Recent widespread spam runs posing as convincing-looking email messages from high-profile organizations are all part of a single, orchestrated attack campaign using the Blackhole exploit kit. See Series Of Convincing Spam Runs Part Of One Massive Advanced Attack Campaign. ]

The group behind Blackhole started ramping up its focus on Java following the success of an earlier exploit included as part of the toolkit last year.

"The Java exploit that they included in the kit last year had such a high success rate, in the 70- to 80-percent range, they saw that as, 'Hey, this is great. People will keep buying this if we can add more like this,'" he says.

The focus on incorporating Java into exploit kits started in the third quarter of 2010, according to research (PDF) presented by consultant Dan Guido, now CEO at security start-up Trail of Bits. In a study of the 15 most popular toolkits, Guido found that 11 out of 15 had at least one Java exploit and two-thirds of those had at least two Java exploits.

Because legacy versions of the Java runtime usually remain on a computer even after an update, attackers have had good success against the ubiquitous software. Yet the latest XML exploit shows that the kit creators are willing to do a bit more work to get a jump on the defenders, as well. It would not have taken malware developers long to create the attack, especially because a security researcher had produced a recipe for the exploit in the form of pseudo-code that had been posted online.

"It's the advances in technical skill in exploit development skills that I really care about," Guido says. "The Java thing is a tiny, tiny example that these guys are willing to do more than copy and paste. These guys are willing to sit down and type out 50 lines of Java, which is not a lot, but it's more than they were willing to do last year."

Because of the focus on exploits for Java vulnerabilities, HP's Jones recommends that companies turn off Java on computers that do not need to run the software. In his previous research, Guido found that disallowing Java in the Internet zone would protect against the exploits in the existing toolkits.

While advances in obfuscation are interesting, the attacks have no chance to escape eventual notice, Guido says. Of course, they don't have to, he says.

"They don't need to stay stealthy," he says. "What they need to do is delay the amount of time between when it hits an AV analyst's desk to when the company pushed out a detection for the attack, so that those cycles that they go through -- new attack, new defense, new attack, new defense -- is as long as possible."

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

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
News
FluBot Malware's Rapid Spread May Soon Hit US Phones
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  4/28/2021
Slideshows
7 Modern-Day Cybersecurity Realities
Steve Zurier, Contributing Writer,  4/30/2021
Commentary
How to Secure Employees' Home Wi-Fi Networks
Bert Kashyap, CEO and Co-Founder at SecureW2,  4/28/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-24259
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-05
The “Elementor Addon Elements� WordPress Plugin before 1.11.2 has several widgets that are vulnerable to stored Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) by lower-privileged users such as contributors, all via a similar method.
CVE-2021-24260
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-05
The “Livemesh Addons for Elementor� WordPress Plugin before 6.8 has several widgets that are vulnerable to stored Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) by lower-privileged users such as contributors, all via a similar method.
CVE-2021-24261
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-05
The “HT Mega – Absolute Addons for Elementor Page Builder� WordPress Plugin before 1.5.7 has several widgets that are vulnerable to stored Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) by ...
CVE-2021-24262
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-05
The “WooLentor – WooCommerce Elementor Addons + Builder� WordPress Plugin before 1.8.6 has a widget that is vulnerable to stored Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) by lower-priv...
CVE-2021-24263
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-05
The “Elementor Addons – PowerPack Addons for Elementor� WordPress Plugin before 2.3.2 for WordPress has several widgets that are vulnerable to stored Cross-Site Scriptin...