Kaspersky Lab has discovered StoneDrill – a wiper that destroys everything on an infected computer and also features advanced anti-detection techniques and espionage tools.
Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team has discovered a new sophisticated wiper malware, called StoneDrill. Just like another infamous wiper, Shamoon, it destroys everything on the infected computer. StoneDrill also features advanced anti-detection techniques and espionage tools in its arsenal. In addition to targets in the Middle East, one StoneDrill target has also been discovered in Europe, where wipers used in the Middle East have not previously been spotted in the wild.
In 2012, the Shamoon (also known as Disttrack) wiper made a lot of noise by taking down around 35,000 computers in an oil and gas company in the Middle East. This devastating attack left 10% of the world’s oil supply potentially at risk. However, the incident was one of a kind, and after it the actor essentially went dark. In late 2016 it returned in the form of Shamoon 2.0 – a far more extensive malicious campaign using a heavily updated version of the 2012 malware.
While exploring these attacks Kaspersky Lab researchers unexpectedly found malware that was built in a similar “style” to Shamoon 2.0. At the same time, it was very different and more sophisticated than Shamoon. They named it StoneDrill.
StoneDrill – a wiper with connections:
It is not yet known how StoneDrill is propagated, but once on the attacked machine it injects itself into the memory process of the user’s preferred browser. During this process it uses two sophisticated anti-emulation techniques aimed at fooling security solutions installed on the victim machine. The malware then starts destroying the computer’s disk files.
So far, at least two targets of the StoneDrill wiper have been identified, one based in the Middle East and the other in Europe.
Besides the wiping module, Kaspersky Lab researchers have also found a StoneDrill backdoor, which has apparently been developed by the same code writers and used for espionage purposes. Experts discovered four command and control panels which were used by attackers to run espionage operations with help of the StoneDrill backdoor against an unknown number of targets.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about StoneDrill is that it appears to have connections to several other wipers and espionage operations observed previously. When Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered StoneDrill with the help of Yara-rules created to identify unknown samples of Shamoon, they realised they were looking at a unique piece of malicious code that seems to have been created separately from Shamoon. Even though the two families – Shamoon and StoneDrill – don’t share the exact same code base, the mind-set of the authors and their programming “style” appear to be similar. That’s why it was possible to identify StoneDrill with the Shamoon-developed Yara-rules.
Code similarities with older known malware were also observed, but this time not between Shamoon and StoneDrill. In fact StoneDrill uses some parts of the code previously spotted in the NewsBeef APT, also known as Charming Kitten – another malicious campaign which has been active in the last few years.
“We were very intrigued by the similarities and comparisons between these three malicious operations. Was StoneDrill another wiper deployed by the Shamoon actor? Or are StoneDrill and Shamoon two different and unconnected groups that just happened to target Saudi organisations at the same time? Or, two groups which are separate but aligned in their objectives? The latter theory is the most likely one: when it comes to artefacts we can say that while Shamoon embeds Arabic-Yemen resource language sections, StoneDrill embeds mostly Persian resource language sections. Geopolitical analysts would probably be quick to point out that both Iran and Yemen are players in the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, and Saudi Arabia is the country where most victims of these operations were found. But of course, we do not exclude the possibility of these artefacts being false flags,” said Mohamad Amin Hasbini, Senior Security Researcher, Global Research and Analysis Team, Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab products successfully detect and block the malware related to Shamoon, StoneDrill, and NewsBeef.
In order to protect organisations from such attacks, Kaspersky Lab security experts advise the following:
- Conduct a security assessment of the control network (i.e. a security audit, penetration testing, gap analysis) to identify and remove any security loopholes. Review external vendor and 3rd party security policies in case they have direct access to the control network.
- Request external intelligence: intelligence from reputable vendors helps organisations to predict future attacks on the company’s industrial infrastructure. Emergency response teams, such as Kaspersky Lab’s ICS CERT, provide some cross-industry intelligence free of charge.
- Train your employees, paying special attention to operational and engineering staff and their awareness of recent threats and attacks.
- Provide protection inside and outside the perimeter. A proper security strategy has to devote significant resources to attack detection and response in order to block an attack before it reaches critically important objects.
- Evaluate advanced methods of protection: including regular integrity checks for controllers, and specialised network monitoring to increase the overall security of a company and reduce the chances of a successful breach, even if some inherently vulnerable nodes cannot be patched or removed.
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.
R5m in software fines
South African companies paid almost R5.2 million in damages for using unlicensed software in 2017 up from R3.6 million in 2016.
This is according to data from BSA | The Software Alliance, a non-profit, global trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners.
The significant increase in unlicensed software payments – which includes settlements as well as the cost of acquiring new software to become compliant – is the result of more accurate leads from informers, says Darren Olivier, Partner at Adams & Adams, legal counsel for BSA. In 2017 BSA received 281 reports in South Africa alleging the use of unlicensed software products of BSA member companies – this up considerably up from 230 leads in 2016.
“BSA’s recent social media campaign also helped to create awareness among local companies about the need to comply with existing legislation in order to avoid legal action,” Olivier says.
The result has been a 13% increase in settlements paid in 2017, with the settlements total reaching almost R2.5 million.
While the average settlement paid by companies in 2017 was around R36 094, in some cases the amount owed was far greater, as is evidenced by Shereno Printers, a print and design company based in Gauteng, which ended up paying a hefty settlement amount of R260 000 last year in an out of court settlement.
The company’s case was in line with a broader trend, which saw the print and design industry as a whole rank among the top sectors plagued by unlicensed software.
Aside from settlements, companies also paid more than R2.6 million in licenses purchased to legalise their unlicensed software.
And the ramifications of software piracy extend beyond financial implications. “It also results in potential job losses and loss in tax revenue. This is not to mention the financial and reputational damage brought about by security breaches and lost data,” comments Olivier.
As unlicensed software has not been updated with the latest security features, it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattack, he explains.
This is a particular problem for companies operating in South Africa where economic crime has recently reached record levels, according to the Global Economic Crime Survey. Indeed, 77% of South African organisations have experienced some form of economic crime. What’s more, instances of cybercrime totalled 29% of economic crimes reported.
This in turn, raises questions around government policy and the adequacy of existing copyright legislation, which only enables the registration of copyright in films, but not in computer programs.
Olivier notes that it is likely the percentage of unlicensed software on South African computers has increased over the past year. “We received many more leads this year, which is an indicator that the amount of pirated software is greater than in previous years,” he comments.
Often unlicensed software is not so much a case of deliberate piracy as it is a result of poor software asset management (SAM).
“For this reason, the BSA encourages all businesses to ensure they have effective SAM practices in place. Companies should be able to confirm what software they are using and are licensed to use – this will help them to identify unlicensed software and can also bring about cost savings. Even the most basic SAM practices such as regular inventories and software use policies can help,” says Chair of the BSA SA Committee, Billa Coetsee.
With this in mind the BSA offers a range of SAM solutions, not only to help organisations reduce legal and security risks, but also to create business value.