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Surgical malware attack agains US via Iran

 


Sometimes warfare operation and cyber crime are really difficult to distinguish, especially when the cyber scenario is related to country that is facing with rising political tension such as Iran. I refuse to call cyber criminals, a group of expert hackers who made himself the protagonist of a complex story from different points of view. The group has tapped the tension around the Iranian nuclear program to spread a malware and the interesting idea is that the final target of the agent are the US military staff.

The malware use a consolidated technique, browser exploitation spread through a Word (.doc) document sent with spam mail. The subject is "Iran's Oil and Nuclear Situation.doc", and seeks to leverage the user's curiosity. Application exploitation is among the most effective because it request great effort to be identified and can be realized using several exploit packs simply available.

The document contains a Shockwave Flash applet that tries to load a video file (.mp4) from hxxp://208.1xx.23x.76/test.mp4. This MP4 file isn’t your regular YouTube video. It has been crafted to include a valid header so it can legitimately identify itself as MP4, but the rest of the file is filled with 0x0C values. When the file loads and the Flash Player tries to render the MP4, it triggers an exploit in the Adobe Flash plugin (CVE-2012-0754), that ultimately drops an executable file embedded in the initial .doc.

Very interesting is the silent mode is used to trigger the exploit and the multiple levels of obfuscation used to hide the agent inside the doc file (us.exe) to the virus. Once infected the victims a backdoor (identified by Bitdefender as Gen:Variant.Graftor.15447) waiting for master's request.

Who has developed the malware?
Again seems to be that responsible come from China because the malicious code tries to connect to a C&C server that uses dynamic DNS services to permanently change its IP address. The fact the master is located a in China and that the malware hasn't spread with massive spam campaign but limited to a specific region suggest to the expert the real target maybe the US military staff involved in Iranian military operations. The fact the the master is located a in China and that the malware hasn't spread with massive spam campaign but limited to a specific region suggest to the expert the real target maybe the US military staff involved in Iranian military operations.

To reinforce the doubts about China's cyber army are in my opinion two observations, the first is that considering the strict control of web exercised by China can be difficult for an independent group to attack other countries. Surely we are dealing with an assault sponsored by the Beijing government. Second point is related the close alliance with Iran, China share strong economic interests regarding oil supplies so there would be no reason to believe that Beijing intends to attack Iranian systems. Obviously, the goal is different and interesting is the mode of infection used, a surgical operation supported by time of great political tension surrounding the country.

The event should prompt a lot of concern and alert because the likelihood is high that more of these cyber attacks are on the way. Recent reports suggest that nations such as China, Iran, Russia and North Korea are already preparing stealth cyber-attacks against the U.S.
We are on heightened cyber alert!

Pierluigi Paganini

References

http://securityaffairs.co/wordpress/3325/intelligence/surgical-malware-attack-agains-us-via-iran.html

http://www.malwarecity.com/blog/malware-from-china-uses-iran-nuclear-tension-to-target-military-staff-1268.html