Attackers targeted executives in the defense industry and government officials with fake invitations to conferences to install the MSUpdater Trojan to steal sensitive data.
discovered malware that has been used in targeted attacks against defense
contractors, government agencies and other organizations since early 2009,
according to IT security companies Seculert and Zscaler.
messages containing the malicious attachments masqueraded as fake conference
invitations and targeted executives and government officials, Mike Geide, a
senior security researcher at Zscaler ThreatLabZ, wrote on the ThreatLabz
blog Jan. 31. Researchers from
Seculert and Zscaler separately identified these attacks and "joined
forces" to analyze the malware and incidents, Geide said. They report that
the Trojan uses a remote-access tool to burrow into networks and steal data.
Zscaler have named the Trojan MSUpdater as it disguises its outbound
communications with the command-and-control (C&C) server as Windows Update
requests. Researchers used the infection method and other characteristics to
identify older incidents that appear to have been perpetrated by the same
and domestic companies with intellectual property dealing in aero/geospace and
defense seem to be some of the recent industries targeted in these
attacks," researchers wrote in the joint Seculert-Zscaler report. The
researchers did not provide any details about specific targets.
emails arrive in user in-boxes with an attachment. The PDF file appears to be
an invitation to a conference that the attackers have identified would be of
interest to the targeted recipient. Once the PDF file has been opened, the
malicious code targets a zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Reader.
The malware is
sophisticated enough to not execute the code if it detects it is in a virtual
machine environment and just exits, according to the joint report. The
malware's communication with the C&C server goes over HTTP, but is encoded
to make it harder to detect, according to Geide.
machine connects with the C&C server and transmits data about the type of
system it is, such as the operating system and custom identifiers that allows
the zombie to authenticate with the server. Once the initial connection has
been made, the infected system can download new files, upload files and execute
Contagio published details of the bug
in Reader back in
September 2010, and Adobe patched the security issue in October. As soon as
Adobe closed a vulnerability, MSUpdater would be modified to exploit a new
zero-day vulnerability, according to Aviv Raff, CTO of Seculert.
experts have long warned that attackers are researching victims and crafting
attacks designed to catch their interest. Many attackers use the information
shared on professional networking site LinkedIn to identify the victim's
industry, company and job roles, Aaron Barr, former CEO of HB Gary Federal,
told attendees at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's International
Conference on Cyber-Crime in New York City last month.
concurred in a separate blog
post, noting that the volume of emails with malicious attachments that pretend
to be conference invitations have grown. Seculert researchers have seen
invitations to International Conference on Intelligent Sensors, Sensor Networks
and Information Processing, IEEE Aerospace Conference, an Iraq Peace Conference
and others. "Attackers are trying to lure employees of specific
organizations with 'invitations' to relevant industry conferences,"
note that if your organization encounters this type of advanced threat, it will
most likely be persistent and bound to exist undetected for a long period of
time in your network, as well as most probable to happen again in the
future," Seculert wrote.
campaign has been changing frequently as attackers swap out different binaries
to avoid detection and change the way the infected systems communicate with the
remote C&C servers, according to the post. The attackers appear to be very
patient, taking the time to carefully research their targets and collecting
information, researchers found. They are also selecting organizations that have
high-value intellectual property and assets.