Thursday, December 22, 2011

More Sykipot Malware Clues Point To China

Via InformationWeek -

The Sykipot malware used in recent, targeted attacks against defense contractors appears to have been designed, at least in part, to steal information relating to U.S. military drones and unmanned aerial vehicles.

To date, "there have been a lot of different campaigns with different command-and-control servers," said researchers at Alienvault Labs in a blog post. "The modus operandi is simple, they send emails with a malicious attachment or link, sometimes using a zero-day exploit [on] key employees of different organizations."

The Sykipot malware used in recent targeted attacks involved JavaScript-embedded malicious PDF files that were emailed to targets, and which exploited a zero-day Adobe Reader vulnerability that was recently patched.


The Alienvault researchers found that the related attack campaigns appear to have been running since at least August 2011, although the command-and-control server used was first registered in March 2011.

Again, the drone-information-seeking Sykipot variant is but one of many. Symantec said it's seen "unconfirmed traces" of Sykipot dating as far back as 2006. But the Sykipot family of malware only appeared to become widespread last year, via obfuscated script files that exploited Internet Explorer vulnerabilities to execute arbitrary code.

Interestingly, the Alienvault researchers found that while many of the command-and-control servers involved in Sykipot appear to be based in the United States, it appears that attackers "used well-known public exploits to hack into U.S.-based servers and then [installed] ... software to proxy the connections between the infected systems and the real C&C server."

Most of those C&C servers use a Web server known as Netbox, which is a Windows-based server that allows developers to deploy ASP applications as standalone executables. All told, about 80% of the world's Netbox servers are located in China. Furthermore, the tool's documentation is available solely in Mandarin. That squares with previous research into Sykipot conducted by Symantec, which found that the malware produced Chinese-language error messages.

The Alienvault researchers also cross-referenced which of those Netbox servers were using a digital certificate that was known to have been employed as part of the Sykipot attacks. Ultimately, they matched seven IP addresses, all owned by "China Unicom Beijing province network." Of those, six appeared to point directly to a known Sykipot C&C server.

"Most of the domains used on these campaigns are registered on Xinnet, a Chinese domain registrant," said the researchers. "Also the information [for] the domain owners (names, addresses, etc.) are from China." But they said the ownership information wasn't reliable, since it could easily be faked. Even so, the evidence appears quite strong that whoever is behind Sykipot speaks Chinese, and may be based in China. Of course, whether they're state-backed hackers or freelance operators--perhaps working for businesses--remains unknown.


Are the Sykipot’s authors obsessed with next generation US drones?

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