Researchers at Kaspersky Lab say Mac malware is being used in an advanced persistent attack targeting people supporting human rights for the Uyghur people in China.
According to Kaspersky, victims are being hit with an email laced with a new, mostly undetected version of the MaControl backdoor Trojan, which supports both i386 and PowerPC Macs. The malware is hidden within a zip file that contains a JPG image and a Mac application. When the malware is executed, it installs itself in the system and connects to its command-and-control (C&C) server for instructions.
Activists have long been engaged in a political rights struggle for the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group who live mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China. Researchers traced the C&C server address to China, though Kaspersky senior researcher Roel Schouwenberg did not lay the blame on the Chinese government.
“We haven’t been able to determine exactly how many people have been targeted,” he said. “However, given the style of the campaign and the target, we assume it has a very limited scope. We’re dealing with RATs (remote access Trojans) here. It has all the signs of your typical cyber-espionage or cyber-intelligence operation.”
So far, researchers have only seen a small number of Mac-oriented advanced persistent threat (APT) campaigns, Schouwenberg said, though he added that he expects that to change.
“What’s interesting here is that this campaign also has a Windows component to it,” he said. “So that implies the attackers know which target is running OS X and which target is running Windows. We’ve seen just a few OS X APT campaigns, of which just a subset utilized exploits. “
The Windows component was uncovered by researchers at AlienVault Labs, which discovered similar emails to the ones seen by Kaspersky that contain a RAT that connects to the same IP address as the malware reported by Kaspersky. This second attack uses a zip file that contains a Winrar file. The file extracts a binary file, which copies itself into the system. The Winrar file is then deleted and a DLL file is dropped onto the system.
Once the DLL is loaded, the Gh0st RAT tool begins communicating with the C&C.
“This RAT [Remote Access Tool] has been found in previous incidents, and it is commonly used on APT incidents regarding Tibetans, Uyghurs and other groups on the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] zone,” blogged Jaime Blasco, Labs manager with AlienVault.
“With Macs growing in popularity and their increased adoption by high-profile targets, we expect the number of Mac OS X APT attacks will also grow,” blogged Costin Raiu, director of Kapersky’s global research and analysis team. “Previous attacks used MS Office exploits (Exploit.MSWord.CVE-2009-0563.a.); the one described here (using MaControl) relies on social engineering to get the user to run the backdoor. Just like with PC malware, [a] combination of exploits and social engineering tricks are generally the most effective; it wont be surprising to see a spike in such attacks soon.”