For Malware, All the World's a Stage

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2009-04-29 Print this article Print

To hack, or not to hack, that is the question.

A funny thing happened when PandaLabs researchers were recently combing through some malware code to see what they could find. Whilst looking through some malicious downloaders, the experts began noticing bits of Shakespeare text mixed in among the garbled characters.

PandaLabs researcher Jose Julio Ruiz de Loizaga reports that he specifically found quotes from Hamlet in a set of Trojan attacks that he was studying.

While the much of the text used never shows up in the company's report, I'd have to think that. "And then it started like a guilty thing, upon a fearful summons," would have been most appropriate for a Trojan. It actually looks like the attackers merely parceled in whole scenes from the play among their strings of characters.

In all, the researcher found three different downloaders that harbored the eloquent prose of the Bard.

"There were two possibilities, either the malware author was a fan of sixteenth century Renaissance literature, or that the text was used to make detection more difficult," the expert said in a blog post.

Unbeknownst to many security wonks, Ruiz de Loizaga said that Panda has actually observed similar techniques being employed in the past to circumvent phishing filters. "Anti-phishing engines look at keywords in the body of a message. When these words are found, they are correlated to the length of the message," he said. " In other words, a keyword has greater weight the more times it is repeated in a short message, which is why it is not unusual to find phishing emails with some literary text rendered white, so as to be invisible to the reader. Although the recipient does not see the extra words, the anti-phishing engine is fooled by the additional words."

In this case, the attackers are employing a similar approach in order to trick AV filters, the company contends, with signature file engines serving as the intended target.

"The additional text is inserted with the intention of changing the file's signature, thereby avoiding detection. The truth is that this is an interesting and educational way of doing so," the researcher said.

Pretty snazzy.

I can't decide whether I think Shakespeare himself would have found the whole scenario hilarious or distressing, but I'm leaning toward hilarious... That it should come to this!

I knew that malware was a global epidemic. But, I never figured that the Globe Theater would somehow be involved.

Truth is often stranger than fiction.

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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