Weird Malware on Display at Black Hat

By Andrew Brandt

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I’m at the Black Hat Briefings this week, the annual confab of the best and brightest in computer security, catching up on the trends and tricks malware authors and data thieves employ. I just saw an impressive demo by a pair of security researchers who took a deep dive into the behaviors of four pieces of highly targeted malware.

The researchers, Nicholas Percoco and Jibran Ilyas of Trustwave, ran a live demonstration of four Trojans designed to steal sensitive information and surreptitiously exfiltrate that data to the criminals. Three of the Trojans had been found installed on the servers of retail businesses, and capture credit card information — including the magnetic stripe data recorded by point-of-sale devices (ie., cash registers). The fourth Trojan, found on the computers of a large military contractor, was designed to steal any files in the My Documents folder, as well as any saved passwords on the system.

Of note was the highly targeted nature of the Trojans. In the case of the military contractor, for example, the criminals had obviously done their research, because the attack had targeted several high-level executives within the firm. According to the researchers, the attack started when a maliciously crafted Adobe PDF file was emailed only to the executives in a forged message that appeared to come from the CEO of the company. The forged message even included the CEO’s customized mail “signature” and the message text sounded convincingly similar to the language the CEO might have used.

Most importantly, all four Trojans did an outstanding job of remaining undetected for a significant period of time, which gave them more time to get the job done. Although one Trojan, which used a rootkit driver, had a tendency to “blue screen” their test machines, even a crash might not alert a victim that their computer hosts an infection. After all, Windows can crash for all kinds of reasons, and a crash isn’t necessarily an indication of a malware infection.

I’m looking forward to seeing more talks from other researchers over the course of the coming week. Of particular interest is a talk being given by Greg Hoglund about identifying the perpetrators of malware infections and even the creator(s) of widely distributed types of malware.

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