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Banking malware back in Play Store

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An Android banking trojan that was first reported by ESET earlier this year has found its way to Google Play, now stealthier than ever.

Dubbed BankBot, the banking trojan has been evolving throughout the year, resurfacing in different versions on and outside Google Play. The variant ESET discovered on Google Play in early September 2017, is the first one to successfully combine the recent steps of BankBot’s evolution: improved code obfuscation, a sophisticated payload dropping functionality, and a cunning infection mechanism abusing Android’s Accessibility Service.

Misuse of Android Accessibility has been previously observed in many different trojans, mostly outside Google Play. Recent analyses have confirmed that the crooks spreading BankBot managed to upload an app with the Accessibility-abusing functionality to Google Play, only without the banking malware payload.

The “complete puzzle” featuring the banking malware payload that manged to sneak into Google Play masqueraded as a game name Jewels Star Classic (it is important to note that the attackers misused the name of popular legitimate game series Jewels Star by the developer ITREEGAMER, which is in no way connected to this malicious campaign).

ESET has notified Google’s security team of the malicious app, installed by up to 5000 users before getting removed from the store.

What makes it dangerous?

In this campaign, the crooks have put together a set of techniques with rising popularity among Android malware authors – abusing Android Accessibility Service, impersonating Google, and setting a timer delaying the onset of malicious activity to evade Google’s security measures.

The techniques combined make it very difficult for the victim to recognise the threat in time.  Because the malware impersonates Google and waits for 20 minutes before displaying the first alert, the victim has very little chance to connect its activity to the Jewel Star classic app they have recently downloaded. On top of that, the many different names the malware uses throughout the infection process significantly complicate efforts to locate and manually remove it.

How to clean an infected device

If you are downloading many different apps from Google Play and elsewhere, you might want to check if you haven’t reached for this malware.

Checking your device for Jewel’s Star Classic is not enough, as the attackers frequently change up the apps misused for BankBot’s distribution. To see if your device has been infected, we recommend you go after the following indicators:

  • Presence of an app named “Google Update”
  • Active device administrator named “System Update”
  • Repeated appearance of the “Google Service” alert

If you can’t find any of the mentioned indicators, your device may well have been infected with this BankBot variant.

To manually clean your device, you would first need to disable device administrator rights for “System Update”, then proceed uninstalling both “Google Update” and the associated trojanised app.

ESET security products detect and block this variant of BankBot as Android/Spy.Banker.LA. 

How to stay safe?

Besides using a reliable mobile security solution, there are other things you can do to avoid falling victim to mobile malware:

  • Whenever possible, favour official app stores over alternative ones. Although not flawless, Google Play does employ advanced security mechanisms, which doesn’t have to be the case with alternative stores
  • When in doubt about installing an app, check its popularity by number of installs, ratings and content of reviews
  • After running anything that you’ve installed on your mobile device, pay attention to what permissions and rights it requests. If an app asks for intrusive permissions – even more so if Accessibility related, read them with caution and only grant them if absolutely sure of the apps reliability.

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Cons exploit Telegram ICO

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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.

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Crouching Yeti strikes

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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.

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