Malware can find its way into the most unexpected of places. Certainly, no website can be assumed to be always completely free of malware. Typically, there are many ways that websites can be compromised to serve malware:
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In part one of our two part blog series on the “String of Paerls” threat, we showed an attack involving a spearphish message containing an attached malicious Word doc. We also described our methodology in grouping similar samples based on Indicators of Compromise: static and dynamic analysis indicators. In this second part of the blog series we will cover the malicious documents and malicious executables. For the technical deep dive see the write up on the VRT blog here.
[ed. Note: This post was updated 7/9/2014 to include new information not available to the author at the time of original publishing]
I just returned from the Gartner Security Summit at the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor Maryland. Each morning I took my run along the Potomac River and passed this sculpture of a man buried in the sand.
In speaking with many IT executives they expressed specific concerns around their IT security, and this sculpture of the “man in the sand” took on new meaning for me. I could see how they might similarly feel overwhelmed and buried given their limited resources and the abundance of threats to their environments. Yes, I’ve been in this industry too long! Anyway, throughout all of my conversations it was abundantly clear that people were looking for a new way to approach securing their networks and applications. Customers are recognizing that unsecured access to the network is a critical threat vector; however, when leveraged properly, the network itself also provides a significant platform that offers comprehensive protection to close those gaps. So, what do I mean by that?
The network uniformly sees and participates in everything across the threat continuum, whether before, during or after an attack. If we can leverage the insights and inherent control the network provides, IT organizations can truly augment their overall end-to-end security across this continuum. If done correctly, this augmentation can happen without investing a large amount of time, energy, and resources in filling all the gaps to secure their environments -- regardless of legacy network, endpoint, mobile, virtual, or cloud usage models
Cisco strongly believes that the network must work intimately with various security technologies in a continuous fashion to offer protection for networks, endpoints, virtual, data centers and mobile.
Given Cisco’s breadth and depth of security, we did not have room to exhibit our networking devices. However, within much of our networking (and even security) offerings, we have embedded security capabilities that provide more comprehensive protection across the entire threat continuum.
An example of this is Cisco TrustSec embedded network access enforcement, which provides network segmentation based on highly differentiated access policies. Cisco TrustSec works with Cisco ISE to provide consistent secure access that is mapped to IT business goals. Cisco ISE and TrustSec are part of the Cisco Unified Access solution and leverage a superior level of context and simplified policy management across the entire infrastructure in order to ensure that the right users and devices gain the right access to the right resources at any given time.
Cisco’s integrated approach to security reduces complexity, while providing unmatched visibility, continuous control and advanced threat protection, which, in turn, allows customers to prioritize more efficiently and act more quickly - before, during, and after an attack. Through Cisco’s New Security Model, we help you achieve a more pleasant experience and get you dug out of the sand. To learn more and go beyond just a shovel and pail, go to Cisco’s Security Page.
We blogged in September of 2013 about variants of Havex. A month ago on June 2, 2014, I had the chance to give a presentation at AREA41. In my presentation “The Art of Escape,” I talked about targeted attacks involving watering holes.
If we look at the timeline of the attacks we see two clear impacting factors:
- CVE release time
- Timeframe of new PluginDetect
This explains why we saw an increase in watering hole attacks peaking in August
Update 7-8-14: Part 2 can be found here
This is part one in a two-part series due to the sheer amount of data we found on this threat and threat actor. This particular attack was a combined spearphishing and exploit attempt. As we’ve seen in the past, this can be a very effective combination.
In this specific example the attackers targeted a feature within Microsoft Word — Visual Basic Scripting for Applications. While basic, the Office Macro attack vector is obviously still working quite effectively. When the victim opens the Word document, an On-Open macro fires, which results in downloading an executable and launching it on the victim’s machine. This threat actor has particularly lavish tastes. This threat actor seem to target high-profile, money-rich industries such as banking, oil, television, and jewelry.
Discovering the threat
The VRT has hundreds of feeds of raw threat intelligence, ranging from suspicious URLs, files, hashes, etc. We take that intelligence data and apply selection logic to it to identify samples that are worthy of review. Using various methods from machine learning to dynamic sandbox analysis, we gather details about the samples -- producing indicator of compromise (IOC), and alerts made up of multiple IOCs.
During our analysis we took the last 45 days’ worth of samples, and clustered them together based on a matching set of alert criteria. This process reduced over a million detailed sample reports to just over 15 thousand sample clusters that exhibit similar behavior. Using this pattern of similar behavior, we were capable of identifying families of malware. This led us to discover a Microsoft Word document that downloaded and executed a secondary sample, which began beaconing to a command and control server.
The Malicious Word documents & Associated Phishing campaign
The attacks we uncovered are an extremely targeted spear phish in the form of an invoice, purchase order, or receipt, written specifically for the recipient. For instance, the following is an example message we observed that purportedly came from “Maesrk”, the shipping company.