Another day, another revelation inside the (in)visible Cyber War going on Middle East. Today Kaspersky Lab has announced the discovery of another strain of malware derived from the infamous Tilded-Platform family: the little brother of Flame, the so-called miniFlame (or “John”, as named by the corresponding Gauss configuration).
The malware has been discovered while looking closer at the protocol handlers of the Flame C2 Infrastructure. An analysis that had previously revealed four different types of malware clients codenamed SP, SPE, FL and IP, and hence the fragmented evidence of a new family of cyber weapons, where one only element were known at the time the FL client corresponding to Flame.
Exactly one month later, another member of the family has been given a proper name: the SPE element corresponding to miniFlame.
Unlike its elder brother Flame (and its cousin Gauss) miniFlame does not appear to be the element of a massive spy operation, infecting thousands of users, but rather resembles more a small, fully functional espionage module designed for data theft and direct access to infected systems. In few words: a high precision, surgical attack tool created to complement its most devastating relatives for high-profile targeted campaigns. The main purpose of miniFlame is to act as a backdoor on infected systems, allowing direct control by the attackers.
Researchers discovered that miniFlame is based on the Flame platform but is implemented as an independent module. This means that it can operate either independently, without the main modules of Flame in the system, or as a component controlled by Flame.
Furthermore, miniFlame can be used in conjunction Gauss. It has been assumed that Flame and Gauss were parallel projects without any modules or C&C servers in common. The discovery of miniFlame, and the evidence that it can works with both cyber espionage tools, proves that were products of the same ‘cyber-weapon factory’: miniFlame can work as a stand-alone program, or as a Flame or event Gauss plugin.
Although researchers believe that miniFlame is on the wild since 2007, it has infected a significantly smaller number of hosts (~50-60 vs. more than 10,000 systems affected by the Flame/Gauss couple). The distribution of the infections depends on the SPE variant, and spans a heterogeneous sample of countries: from Lebanon and Palestine, to Iran, Kuwait and Qatar; with Lebanon and Iran that appear to concentrate the bigger number of infected hosts.
Another evidence of the ongoing (since 2007) silent Cyber War in Middle East.
Apparently the “Psychosis of Targeted Attacks” is plaguing not only the end users but even the security researchers, leading to dangerous collisions and clamorous retractions.
Yesterday the security firm FireEye published a blog post about the well-known Gauss targeted attacks, concluding that there was some sort of relationship between the Gauss and Flame malware actors based on observing C&C communication going to the Flame C&C IP address.
Unfortunately they did not realize they were observing the activities of a sinkhole operated by Kaspersky in which the sinkhole process had been organized to monitor both the Flame and Gauss C&C infrastructure.
Kaspersky Chief Security Expert Alexander Gostev explains the reasons of the misleading conclusions:
After discovering Gauss we started the process of working with several organizations to investigate the C2 servers with sinkholes. Given Flame’s connection with Gauss, the sinkhole process was being organized to monitor both the Flame and Gauss’ C2 infrastructures. It’s important to note that the Gauss C2 infrastructure is completely different than Flame’s. The Gauss C2s were shut down in July by its operators and the servers have been in a dormant state by the operators since then. However, we wanted to monitor any activity on both C2 infrastructures.
During the process of initiating the investigation into Gauss C2s and creating sinkholes we notified trusted members of the security and anti-malware community about the sinkhole IP and operation so that they were aware of any activity. FireEye’s post about the Gauss C2 samples connecting to the same servers as Flame are actually our sinkholes they’re looking at.
With some easy Googling and checking on WhoIs, researchers could have verified all of this.
Since the investigation and sinkhole operation are still in progress we do not have any more information to provide at this time.
First of all, let me begin with great news: The Cyber Attacks Statistics page is complete with all the data collected so far: I created and inserted even the charts for January, so I am currently covering (and will cover) the whole 2012.
Now, after this small “self-gratification” it is time to look at the statistics derived from the Cyber Attacks Timeline for the first half of August. You will soon discover that this month has seen an (un)expected revamping of Hacktivism and consequently of his preferred weapon (DDoS), and preferred targets (governments). This is a consequence of the so-called OpDemonoid carried on by the Anonymous collective against the takedown of the famous Torrent Tracker (which in many ways reminded the most famous OpMegaUpload). But this is also a consequence of OpAustralia, the operation (successful since the law proposal is in standby) against the new Australian Internet Surveillance Law.
As far as the Motivations Behind Attacks are concerned, Hacktivism ranked at number on with nearly the 50% of the events. Cyber Crime ranked at number two (43%) while as usual Cyber Espionage and Cyber Warfare are well behind (but I wonder how many targeted attacks are acting in this moment, silent and undetected). It is interesting to notice the rise of events motivated by Cyber Espionage (three inside the interval taken into consideration): the Gauss Cyber Attack, the campaign against Saudi Aramco and the attacks against the Nepalese Government.
The winds of hacktivism have a clear influence even in the Distribution Of Attack Techniques which shows a new entry (as it were) at number one. Yes, in the first half of August the DDoS has overtaken the SQLi with nearly one third of the occurrences (31.9%) against the 21.3 of the latter. Only for the 17% of the attacks it has not been possible to identify with certainty the attack technique leveraged.
Clearly the hacktivism also influenced the Distribution Of Targets: nearly one cyber attack on five (among the sample considered), corresponding to the 21%, hit government targets. Targets belonging to the industry sector and to the news sector ranked at number two, both of them with the 13% of the occurrences. Apparently the first half of August has been particularly awful for the News Sector, thanks most of all to Thomson Reuters, that has been hacked three times in two weeks.
Again, I will never get tired of repeating that data must be taken very carefully since they do refer only to discovered attacks (the so-called tip of the iceberg), and hence do not pretend to be exhaustive but only aim to provide an high level overview of the “cyber landscape” of the considered period.
If you want to have an idea of how fragile our data are inside the cyberspace, have a look at the timelines of the main Cyber Attacks in 2011 and 2012 (regularly updated), and follow @paulsparrows on Twitter for the latest updates.
Also, feel free to submit remarkable incidents that in your opinion deserve to be included in the timelines (and charts).
Update August 17: More details about Shamoon, the malware targeting Saudi Aramco and other Middle East companies belonging to Energy Sector. Apparently the destructive details unveiled yesterday are confirmed.
Upate August 27: Saudi Aramco Admits 30K workstations affected.
I have just received a couple of tweets from an unknown user @cyberstrikenews providing more details about the latest Cyber Attack in Middle East targeting Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco).
(@cyberstrikenews) August 16, 2012
The Oil Company declared that “production had not been affected” and even if the virus affected some computers, it did not penetrate key components of the network. The company also said it would return to normal operating mode soon.
From the information I have received (I cannot verify the integrity of the source, so I report the data integrally), the situation appears quite different:
- The company has about 40000 computer clients and about 2000 servers, the destructive virus was known to wipe all information and operation system related files in at least 30000 (75%) of them all data lost permanently.
- Among the servers which (were) destroyed are the company main web server, mail server (smtp and exchange), and the domain controller which as the central part of their network.
- All clients are permanently shut down and they will not be able to recover them in a short period.
- The main company web site ( http://www.aramco.com ) was down during 24 hours and at last they redirected it to an outside country web site called “www.saudiaramco.com”.
Apparently the web site has just been restored to normal operation redirecting the user to Saudi Aramco.
After Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame and Gauss, yet another confirm that there is no cyber peace in middle East!