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.
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.
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).
So, it looks like that the destructive impacts of the cyber attack targeting Aramco, where definitively true. In the same hours in which the first details about the malware were disclosed, Kasperky Lab, McAfee and Symantec have dedicated respectively three blog posts to describe what appears to be the latest example of a large scale cyber attack targeting Middle East (apparently focused on companies belonging to Energy Sector).
Shamoon (or W32/DistTrack), this is the name of the malware, has some points in common (the name of a module) with the infamous Flame, but according to Kaspersky this is the only similarity:
It is more likely that this is a copycat, the work of a script kiddies inspired by the story.
The malware has the same features seen in other “companions” among which the driver signed by a legitimate company “Eidos Corporation”.
According to Symantec, the malware consists of several components:
- Dropper: the main component and source of the original infection. It drops a number of other modules.
- Wiper: this module is responsible for the destructive functionality of the threat.
- Reporter: this module is responsible for reporting infection information back to the attacker.
According to McAfee, machines infected by the malware are made useless as most of the files, the MBR and the partition tables are overwritten with garbage data. The overwritten data is lost and is not recoverable, so this should confirm the destructive details received yesterday.
While, according to Seculert, the malware is a two-stage attack:
Stage 1: The attacker takes control of an internal machine connected directly to the internet, and uses that as a proxy to the external Command & Control server. Through the proxy, the attacker can infect the other internal machines, probably not connected directly to the internet.
Stage 2: Once the intended action on the internal infected machines is complete, the attacker executes the Shamoon malware, wiping all evidence of other malicious software or stolen data from those machines (or also the MBR and the partition table as McAfee Suggested). It then reported back to the external Command & Control Server through the proxy.
So far it is not clear who is behind the attack, although Kaspersky Lab suggests that the term Shamoon:
could be a reference to the Shamoon College of Engineering http://www.sce.ac.il/eng/. Or, it could simply be the name of one of the malware authors. Shamoon is the equivalent of Simon in Arabic.
More details are expected in the next hours.
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!