Redefining “advanced persistent” adversaries?

Since the beginning of 2013, the popular press has documented many major information security intrusions and attacks. These stories have included veiled hints that the amount of sophistication suggests the intrusions are perpetrated by “advanced persistent” adversaries who must be sponsored by nation-states. Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) researchers have drawn a different conclusion based on evidence left behind from recent persistent intrusions in well-secured organizations.

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Threat Group-0110 targets manufacturing and financial organizations via phishing

Since the evening of July 21, 2014, Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) researchers have observed a threat group the CTU research team refers to as Threat Group-0110 (TG-0110)[i] phishing many organizations in the manufacturing and financial verticals. TG-0110 is known for using the Pirpi backdoor to access endpoints. Pirpi can search for and exfiltrate files, run other executable files, and execute commands. It also has reverse shell capabilities.

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Gameover Zeus re-emerges without peer-to-peer capability

Dell SecureWorks CTU(TM) researchers have observed the distribution of a modified version of the Gameover Zeus malware. The global Gameover Zeus infrastructure was disrupted in late May 2014 by law enforcement and private industry partners during Operation Tovar. The infrastructure, including its peer-to-peer (P2P) network, remains under the control of those organizations and is not available to the threat actors who originally operated it. The new version observed in distribution on July 10, 2014 has jettisoned the P2P component in favor of a centralized command and control (C2) infrastructure that is based on a domain generation algorithm (DGA).

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Operation Tovar: Dell SecureWorks Contributes to Efforts Targeting Gameover Zeus and CryptoLocker

Dell SecureWorks partnered with international law enforcement and industry to take proactive action against the infrastructure of the Gameover Zeus botnet and the CryptoLocker ransomware, as well as the operators responsible for these threats. This action has been named Operation Tovar. Law enforcement organizations including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the UK’s National Crime Agency, and Europol’s European Cybercrime Center (EC3) seized infrastructure assets relating to these threats, while technical measures were enacted to neutralize the command and control (C2) infrastructure.

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APT Campaign Leverages the Cueisfry Trojan and Microsoft Word Vulnerability CVE-2014-1761

Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) researchers discovered the Cueisfry first-stage downloader trojan while analyzing a spearphishing message sent to an email account belonging to an intelligence-related group in Japan. The message was part of an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) campaign targeting government officials and economic institutions in Southeast Asia.

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Changes in Observed/Assumed Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs)

Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) researchers interact directly with clients during targeted threat incident response engagements. These engagements provide access to a wide range of data for both analysis and research. CTU researchers can deploy host-based endpoint analysis agents and network monitoring systems, and can collect infrastructure logs for analysis. This access, coupled with alerts from Dell SecureWorks iSensors, allows CTU researchers to achieve a much deeper, targeted level of analysis. As a result, CTU researchers have observed a wide range of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by threat actors to deploy a popular remote access trojan (RAT). Some of these tactics, including the following examples, run counter to assumptions about common techniques.

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HelloBridge Trojan Uses Heartbleed News to Lure Victims

The Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) research team analyzed a malware sample on April 9, 2014 that takes advantage of recent news reports focusing on the “Heartbleed” vulnerability. The filename used by the attacker, shown in Figure 1, literally translates to “Heartbleed vulnerability testing tool.exe,” but CTU researchers are referring to it as the HelloBridge backdoor trojan. On April 9, the VirusTotal analysis service showed low detection for this malware, with only 3 of 51 antivirus (AV) vendors detecting it as malicious. As of April 17, 27 of 51 AV vendors detected it as malicious.

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Using Unicode to hide malware within the file system

Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) analysts previously observed the use of Unicode characters within the Windows Registry to obscure the presence of malware on a system. Similar techniques can be used within the file system. CTU analysts examined a system infected with the Win32/Vercuser.B worm, which was obscured, in part, through the use of a Unicode character.

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Cutwail Spam Swapping Blackhole for Magnitude Exploit Kit

Shortly after reports that the developer of the Blackhole exploit kit was arrested, one of the groups leveraging the Cutwail spam botnet changed tactics, switching which exploit kit they use to distribute malware. Cutwail has historically distributed the Gameover Zeus trojan through various themed spam campaigns (see Figure 1) in combination with malicious embedded links that led to the Blackhole exploit kit. Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) researchers have observed a shift by one of the groups using the Cutwail botnet from Blackhole to another exploit kit known in the security community as Magnitude (formerly known as Popads).

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How to Hide Malware in Unicode

Unicode character sets are used throughout Windows systems, largely to make it easier to present the same information (warning messages, alerts, notices, etc.) in different languages. Windows applications, including the Windows Explorer shell, understand Unicode character sets, control characters, and know how to present them to the user. This functionality can also be subverted for malicious purposes in order to hide the presence of malware, often in plain sight.

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