Yet another Sunday, yet another attack in Middle East.
Maher Center, the Iranian Computer Emergency Response Team / Coordination Center has just released a scant report concerning another (alleged) cyber attack targeting Iran.
Few information is available so far regarding this new targeted attack. The malware, simple in design and hence apparently unrelated to the other sophisticated cyber attacks targeting the same area, seems to have an efficient design and wiping features. According to the statement, the malware “wipes files on different drives in various predefined times. Despite its simplicity in design, the malware is efficient and can wipe disk partitions and user profile directories without being recognized by anti-virus software“. However, it is not considered to be widely distributed. The report also publishes the MD5s of the five identitified components.
Wiper malware samples are becoming increasingly common in Middle East. Of course the most known example so far is the massive cyber attack targeting Saudi Aramco, occurred in August 2012 and targeting 30,000 internal workstations. Few days ago, the final results of the investigations were unveiled, suggesting that the attack was carried on by organized foreign hackers, and aimed “to stop pumping oil and gas to domestic and international markets” with huge impacts on the national economy of the kingdom.
The next hours will tell us if we are in front of a similar scenario, or the statement is rather an attempt of propaganda aimed to emphasize Iranian defensive capabilities.
November has gone and it’s time to review this month’s cyber landscape.
From a Cyber Crime perspective, November 2012 will be probably remembered for the breach to Nationwide, one of the largest insurance and financial services providers in the US, a breach that has potentially left up to 1 million users exposed. Unfortunately, in terms of massive breaches, this is not the only remarkable event of the month, just at the end Acer India has suffered a massive cyber attack culminated in the leak of nearly 15,000 records. Not comparable with the breach that affected Nationwide, but for sure of big impact.
Also on the cyber-espionage front this month has been interesting: JAXA, the Japan Space agency has been targeted by yet another targeted attack (after January 2012) and Symantec has discovered W32.Narilam, a new destructive malware targeting several nations in Middle East.
The hacktivist front has been characterized by the dramatic events in Gaza, the attacks have reached a peak around the first half of the month (as in the first part, I did not take into consideration the attacks carried on in name of OpIsrael for which I wrote a dedicated timeline), in any case the Anonymous have found another way to mark this month, leaking 1 Gb of documents from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Last but not least, this month has seen three large-scale DNS Poisoning attacks (against the Pakistani Registrar PKNIC, Inc., GoDaddy, and the Romanian Registrar). A very rare occurrence!
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 and the related statistics (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).
- 1-15 November 2012 Cyber Attacks Statistics (hackmageddon.com)
- Timeline of Opisrael (hackmageddon.com)
According to the French Magazine “L’Express” earlier in May some computers in the offices of former France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy have been victims of a targeted attack carried via a Flame variant.
What is surprising is not (only) the fact that this is the first known case of a Flame infection out of the Middle East, but most of all the fact that the malware was allegedly implanted by U.S. Hackers.
The attack was successful and, according to the French magazine, the attackers were able to get to the heart of French political power, harvesting the computers of close advisers of Nicolas Sarkozy and obtaining “secret notes” and “strategic plans”.
The attack model resembles a spy story: the attacker crafted a false profile on Facebook (a bogus friend of someone who worked for the president’s office) and successfully used that profile to contact (and compromise) personnel working at the President’s Office (The Elysèe).
After contacting the unaware victims, the attacker sent them a malicious link to a fake Elysée webpage, where they entered their real login and password details that the attacker used to hack into the network and spread the Flame variant.
The reasons of the attack are unknown.
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.
The infosec chronicle has offered many interesting events in this first part of October. Upon all, the massive leak against top 100 universities by the infamous Team GhostShell, the Skype worm, and, last but not least, the U.S. congressional report accusing China’s leading telecom equipment makers, Huawei and ZTE, of being a potential security risk.
Inevitably these events are obfuscating what’s going on in Middle East where Iran, on one hand, is facing the latest wave of Cyber Attacks against its internal assets, and on the other hand, claims to have infiltrated the “most sensitive enemy cyber data”.
This hot autumn for the Middle East has begun on September 30 (approximately one week after Iran connected all its government agencies to its secure autarchic domestic internet service). In that circumstance Iranian Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi announced a clamorous cyber strike of his navy’s cyber corps, being able to “infiltrate the enemy’s most sensitive information” and successfully promote “cyberwar code,” i.e. decrypt highly classified data.
Ali Fadavi did not specify the name of any particular enemy, but simply referred to “imperialistic domination,” a clear reference to Iran’s “enmity with America.”
Maybe is a coincidence, or maybe not, but on October 3 Iran has suffered a massive outage of its Internet infrastructure, at least according to what Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, secretary of the High Council of Cyberspace, has declared to the Iranian Labour News Agency. An outage that the Iranian official has attributed to a heavy organized attack against the country’s nuclear, oil, and information networks, which forced to limit the usage of the Internet.
The latest (?) episode a couple of days ago, on October 8, when Mohammad Reza Golshani, head of information technology for the Iranian Offshore Oil Company, told Iran’s Mehr news agency that an unsuccessful (i.e. repelled by Iranian Experts) cyber attack had targeted the company platforms’ information networks in the past few weeks. I wonder if we are in front of a new Flame. In any case, according to Mr. Golshani there were few doubts about the authors of the attack.
“This attack was planned by the regime occupying Jerusalem (Israel) and a few other countries”.
Few hours later Iran has officially blamed Israel and China for planning and operating the attack.
It is not a mystery that the Stuxnet attack forced Iran to tighten its cyber security, a strategy culminating on the creation of a domestic Internet separated from the outer world (a way to control the access to the Web according to many observers).
For sure it is not a coincidence that the same network separation is the main reason why Iran was able to repel the latest attacks.
My sixth sense (and half) tells me that other occasions to test the cyber security of the Iranian domestic Internet will come soon!
After nearly a month, the Cyber Attack to Saudi Aramco continues to attract the attentions of Infosec Professionals. If you still have doubts about the fact the human beings are the most dangerous forms of targeted attacks, you should read this article by Reuters: according to internal anonymous sources familiar with the company’s investigation (six firms with expertise in hacking attacks have been hired, bringing in dozens of outside experts to investigate the attack and repair computers), one or more insiders with high-level access are suspected of having assisted the hackers who damaged 30,000 computers at Saudi Arabia’s national oil company last month.
So, apparently, it looks like that Shamoon, in order to unleash its destructive rage, was assisted by an internal mole, “someone who had inside knowledge and inside privileges within the company” according to sources familiar with the company. An event which sounds a little strange, and apparently in contrast with the fact that some coding errors inside the malware seemed a priori to exclude a “state-sponsored” origin for the attack: it is really hard to think about an amateurish operation involving an internal saboteur.
So far, two different groups claimed the responsibility of the cyber attack: The Cutting Sword of Justice and Arab Youth Group, motivating the action with political reasons against what they call Al-Saud corrupt regime (sic). In any case, none of them mentioned an internal assistance for successfully carrying on the attack.
Meanwhile the saga continues, other Oil companies have been hit (Quatari RasGas) by the same malware, and Symantec, few days ago, has reported news of further attacks of W32.Disstrack (Symantec’s Name for the threat vector inside the Shamoon). I wonder if internal moles were involved also in those cases.
Yesterday Bloomberg reported the news of a new cyber attack in Middle East targeting an Oil Company. The latest victim is Ras Laffan Liquefied Natural Gas Co., a Qatari LNG producer that has shut down part of its computer systems targeted by an unidentified malware since Aug. 27.
According to the scant official information available, desktop computers in company offices were the only affected, while operational systems at onshore and offshore installations were immune, with no impact on production or cargoes.
Of course it is impossible to avoid a parallelism with the cyber attack targeting Saudi Aramco a couple of weeks ago, and the 30,000 workstations that the company admitted to have been targeted (and restored only few days ago) by this malware outbreak. It is also impossible not to mention the infamous Shamoon, the brand new malware discovered in Middle East that information security community immediately connected to the Saudi Aramco cyber incident, furthermore stating (by literally quoting Symantec’s blog):
W32.Disttrack is a new threat that is being used in specific targeted attacks against at least one organization in the energy sector.
The Ras Raffan cyber attack maybe provides a partial answer to the question regarding who else might have been affected by Shamoon (I wonder if we will soon learn of other companies targeted) and even if security researchers have not confirmed, so far, the connection between Shamoon and this latest attack, the first speculations on regard have already appeared. According to the WSJ, the RasGas information technology department identified the virus as Shamoon, stating that:
Following the virus attack, some “computers are completely dead”.
The Middle East is considered the Cradle of Civilization, but I am afraid that, in this 21st century, it is becoming the “Cradle of Cyber War”. And even if you consider Shamoon just an amateurish copycat (with no cyberwar intentions), you cannot ignore that the latest research according to which even Wiper is a son of the so-called Tilded Platform (the same malware platform that originated Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame).
This cannot be considered a mere coincidence.
Yesterday Saudi Aramco issued a public statement declaring to have fixed most damage and restored all its main internal network services affected by the Cyber Attack occurred on August 15, 2012 (or a “malicious virus” to quote the same term used by the company).
In the same statement, the company has unveiled the real entity of the attack, confirming what was reported in my original blog post: the malicious virus originated from external sources and affected about 30,000 workstations (on a total of 40,000).
The light at the end of the Cyber Tunnel seems quite close, since the company has stated that the workstations have been cleaned and restored to service. There are however some restrictions still in place: as a precaution, remote Internet access to online resources is still restricted and the website aramco.com is offline showing a courtesy page in which the company confirms that all the electronic systems are isolated from outside access.
You will probably remember that the attack occurred nearly in contemporary with the discovery of the latest malware in Middle East, Shamoon, tailored for targeting companies belonging to the Energy Sector, which had consequently put in close relationship with the cyber attack to Saudi Aramco. At the beginning, security researchers believed to have found a brand new cyber weapon in Middle East, but some coding errors found inside the malicious program have convinced the community that Shamoon is not the work of experienced cyber weapons programmers (anyway I believe that if Shamoon is really the source of the troubles for Saudi Aramco, 30,000 erased computers are a respectable results for a team of amateur programmers).
But if the situation is close to normal, hackers all over the world continue to threaten the company: a couple of days ago, an isolated group posted a new menace to Aramco, announcing a new attack for the 25th of August, at 21:00 GMT.Even if the website of aramco.com is still offline, this does not seem the effect of the latest alleged cyber attack: the hackers have posted today, Monday 29 August (sic), a new statement containing the result of their action (several password of internal router and a couple of accounts) but it appears lame and does not seem too much convincing.
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.