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    Figure 1. Motto taken from the InstallBrain website ( on July 3, 2014”

    “Monetize On Non-buyers” is the bold motto of InstallBrain—adware that turns out to have been developed by an Israeli company called iBario Ltd. This motto clearly summarizes the potential risks adware companies can introduce to users, especially when they install stuff on systems without their consent.

    Adware is often perceived as low-risk, because these usually display unwanted popups and pop under advertisements. However, they can pose serious security risks when used by adware companies to load malware onto systems wherein their adware has been installed. In our latest research paper, On the Actors Behind MEVADE/SEFNIT, shows that iBario’s InstallBrain adware installed MEVADE/SEFNIT Trojans in significant number of systems in 2013.

    One of the major threat stories in 2013 was the sudden and dramatic increase of Tor users. In August 2013, the number grew from a million to five million users. Fox-IT was the first to publish the cause of the spike: the MEVADE/SEFNIT malware downloaded a Tor component related to its command-and-control (C&C) communications. This malware does click fraud and Bitcoin mining.

    Microsoft was the first to point out the InstallBrain-SEFNIT connection—a connection also seen by Trend Micro. iBario Ltd removed the brand name Installbrain from its corporate website and replaced it with Unknownfile, which basically is just a successor of Installbrain. Feedback from Trend Micro’s Smart Protection Network shows that there are InstallBrain detections in about 150 countries—a clear indication of how widespread this adware is.

    Adware Company Hosts Malware

    In recent media interviews, iBario described itself an entirely Israel-based company with an estimated worth of US$100M. The 9-figure number is probably an exaggeration, and we also believe that iBario outsources a lot of technical work to Ukraine as there are clear links between iBario and Ukrainian contractors. In fact we found the organizational chart of iBario Ukraine on the Internet headed by the CTO of Installbrain.


    Figure 2. Organizational chart for iBario Ukraine; screenshot taken on June 20, 2014

    One interesting thing we noted is that while Mevade.C was widespread in more than 68 countries, even sparsely populated ones, there was virtually no infection in Israel. This is perhaps to avoid trouble with the local law enforcement.

    It becomes even more interesting when we found that a domain name of a Ukrainian contractor called Denis R, also known as Scorpion, had one of its hostnames pointing to the IP address of iBario’s source code repository. The said file repository hosted Sefnit malware in 2011, so there was Sefnit malware on the corporate source code repository of iBario in 2011. We cannot provide the exact details of this finding publicly, but we are willing to hand over proof to law enforcement partners.

    The fact that iBario’s Installbrain has installed Sefnit on systems, the presence of Sefnit malware in a code repository of iBario in 2011, and the links between iBario and several suspicious contractors from the Ukraine make us believe that iBario is involved with Sefnit.

    Gateway to Infection

    We believe that deceit, or any indication that a user has given no real consent to the download and installation of a file or to what that file is actually doing, is grounds for us in the security industry to block and detect a file as malware.

    InstallBrain is one real example of the risks of having adware on user systems, and of how attractive and beneficial it can become for adware companies to abuse their access to user computers—to the point of discreetly downloading malware. In this case, the downloaded malware takes over computers to commit click fraud or to mine bitcoins.

    For more information about the threat actors, download our research paper On the Actors Behind MEVADE/SEFNIT.

    Update as of 10:26 AM, August 8, 2014

    Since our research on this situation posted, Mike Peters, Co-Founder & General Manager at iBario LTD, has contacted us. Mr. Peters has claimed that the events related to the SEFNIT and MEVADE malware are due to the actions of a rogue contractor who was able to compromise their network and suborn their systems for malicious purposes without their knowledge. Mr. Peters has indicated that he has worked with Microsoft on this matter and they have both offered to provide additional information in this regard. We have told Mr. Peters that we would be happy to review any new information and make any updates based on additional analysis on this new data.

    Posted in Bad Sites, Malware | Comments Off

    Vulnerabilities, particularly zero-days, are often used by threat actors as the starting point for targeted attacks. This was certainly the case for a (then) zero-day vulnerability (CVE-2014-1761) affecting Microsoft Word. In its security advisory released last March, Microsoft itself acknowledged that the vulnerability was being used in “limited, targeted attacks.” Microsoft has since patched this vulnerability as part of its April Patch Tuesday.

    However, the existence of a patch has not deterred threat actors from exploiting this vulnerability. We are still seeing targeted attacks that leverage this particular vulnerability as part of their campaigns.

    The Taidoor Connection

    We came across 2 attacks that targeted government agencies and an educational institute in Taiwan. The first attack used an email with a malicious attachment supposedly sent by a government employee. The attachment used a title pertaining to a national poll to appear legitimate.  The attachment is actually the exploit, detected as TROJ_ARTIEF.ZTBD-R. It drops a file detected as BKDR_SIMBOTDRP.ZTBD-R, which then drops two files – TROJ_SIMBOTLDR.ZTBD-R and TROJ_SIMBOTENC.ZTBD-R. These two files finally lead to the final payload detected as BKDR_SIMBOT.SMC.

    Figure 1. Email sample

    The second attack targeted an educational institute, also in Taiwan. This run used an email attachment to gain access to the recipient’s computer and network. The email message discussed free trade issues, while the attachment had a title about a work project. Similar to the first case, the attachment is also an exploit detected as TROJ_ARTIEF.ZTBD-PB. It drops a backdoor component detected as BKDR_SIMBOT.ZTBD-PB. Once executed, this malware can perform commands such as search for files to steal, exfiltrate any file of interest, as well as perform lateral movement.

    Figure 2. Email sample

    We have determined that these two attacks have ties to the Taidoor  – a campaign that has been active since 2009 – through the similar network traffic structure. The attacks described above have the same characteristics as previous runs in terms of target, social engineering lure, as well as techniques used (using a zero-day vulnerability).

    The PlugX Payload

    Another attack we saw used CVE-2012-0158 and targeted a mailing service in Taiwan. Just like the other attacks, this run uses an email attachment as the entry point to the network. The email attachment pretends to be a list about new books from a particular publishing house. This was done to try and pique  the recipient’s interest.

    Figure 3. Email sample

    This attachment is actually the exploit detected as TROJ_ARTIEF.ZTBD-A  which drops a PlugX malware detected as TROJ_PLUGXDRP.ZTBD. It drops a file detected as BKDR_PLUGX.ZTBD, which has the capability to perform a wide range of information stealing routines, including:

    • Copy, move, rename, delete files
    • Create directories
    • Create files
    • Enumerate files
    • Execute files
    • Get drive information
    • Get file information
    • Open and modify files
    • Log keystrokes and active window
    • Enumerate TCP and UDP connections
    • Enumerate network resources
    • Set TCP connection state
    • Lock workstation
    • Log off user
    • Restart/Reboot/Shutdown system
    • Display a message box
    • Perfrom port mapping
    • Enumerate processes
    • Get process information
    • Terminate processes
    • Enumerate registry keys
    • Create registry keys
    • Delete registry keys
    • Copy registry keys
    • Enumerate registry entries
    • Modify registry entries
    • Delete registry values
    • Screen capture
    • Delete services
    • Enumerate services
    • Get service information
    • Modify services
    • Start services
    • Perform remote shell
    • Connect to a database server and execute SQL statement
    • Host Telnet server

    PlugX malware is a remote access tool (RAT) used in targeted attacks aimed toward government-related institutions and key industries. PlugX may allow remote users to perform data theft routines on the affected system. PlugX can give attackers complete control over a system.

    Employing Countermeasures

    Patching should remain a top priority for regular users and enterprises alike. Installing patches as soon as they are made available can help organizations against attacks that exploit vulnerabilities. Enterprises should also consider virtual patching as they can help mitigate threats in the presence of zero-days and unsupported systems.

    Employee education is also a key element in protecting against targeted attacks. For email attacks that still get through, proper end-user training can help identify possible suspicious activity and/or emails. Users need to be taught to make their fellow employees aware of suspect e-mails in order to improve awareness and enhance defenses throughout the organization.

    Update as of May 23, 2014, 02:05 A.M. PDT

    The detections mentioned in the post have been renamed as following:

    For more details on various targeted attacks, as well as best practices for enterprises, you may visit our Threat Intelligence Resources on Targeted Attacks.



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