Along with a spike in the cryptocurrency market, malicious mining software has been actively deployed by criminals in order to make easy money and became a major trend in 2017.
When someone urgently needs to edit a text document or an image, but doesn’t have the time or opportunity to find a trusted source, the most probable solution is to download the first openly distributed or even cracked application they can find, which are rife on the Internet. So, you successfully download and install the program and nothing wrong or suspicious is spotted in its operation. But suddenly, you notice that your PC seems to run much slower than usual and at the end of the month, you receive an electricity bill that is noticeably higher than average. If this sounds familiar, it’s likely that you’ve got a miner.
Along with a spike in the cryptocurrency market, malicious mining software has been actively deployed by criminals in order to make easy money and became a major trend in 2017. This trend was predicted in 2016 by Kaspersky Lab researchers who spotted a comeback of mining software amid the growing popularity of Zcash. Just a year later, miners are everywhere: according to Kaspersky Lab data, by the end of 2017, the number of affected users would exceed two million.
Criminals are using different tools and techniques, such as social engineering campaigns involving adware or cracked software, in order to affect as many PCs as possible. Kaspersky Lab experts recently identified a number of websites, created using one standard design, which have been offering users free, pirated software such as popular computer programs and applications. Taking into consideration how widespread pirated software is, it’s not a difficult task for criminals to generate a special “landing page”. They have even been using domain names similar to the real ones in order to confuse users as much as possible.
But it’s always wise to be careful when someone offers you something for nothing. The real purpose of these websites was to spread a particular mining software. As a result, in the chase for free applications users were putting themselves at a higher risk than they could have imagined. Along with the downloaded archive, users received a miner which was automatically installed together with the desired software. After this, the miner started silently operating on the victim’s PC, using its power to generate cryptocurrency which goes directly back to the criminals.
The installation archive also included text files containing initialisation information – an address of the criminals’ wallet, as well as a mining pool – a special server to unite several participants and distribute a mining task among their computers. In exchange, participants receive their share of cryptocurrency. Due to the fact that mining Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies is currently a very resource-heavy and time-consuming operation, the pools provide increased efficiency and higher speeds of cryptocurrency production.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have identified that in all cases criminals used the NiceHash project software, which recently suffered a major cybersecurity breach resulting in the theft of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency. Some of the victims were connected to a mining pool of the same name.
There was one more interesting feature found by Kaspersky Lab experts, which enabled criminals to remotely change a previously set wallet number, pool or miner itself. Thus, criminals gave themselves an opportunity to distribute mining flows and change the final destination for crypto coins anytime they needed, or make a victim’s computer work for another mining pool.
“Although not considered malicious, mining software decreases the device’s system performance, which inevitably affects the user experience, along with increasing the victim’s electricity bill. As a result, the use of seemingly harmless pirated software leads to the victim – at their own expense – augmenting someone else’s wallet. We advise users to remain vigilant and use legal software to avoid such malicious handouts,” says Alexander Kolesnikov, Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
In order to protect yourself from such incidents and prevent your PC from turning into a mining zombie, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following:
Cons exploit Telegram ICO
Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.
In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.
The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.
Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.
“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:
- Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
- Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
- Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.
Crouching Yeti strikes
Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.
According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.
Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.
Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.
In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.
Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.
“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.
“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.
Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.
More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.