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    We recently discussed the latest attacks affecting users in Japan that were the works of the BKDR_VAWTRAK malware. This malware family combines backdoor and infostealer behaviors and had just added the banking credentials theft to its repertoire.

    It was also mentioned that this malware tries to downgrade the privileges of security software, including Trend Micro products. In this post, we will add more details on how VAWTRAK performs this routine, as well as provide information on potential countermeasures.

    How Software Restriction Policies Are Abused

    The particular feature used by VAWTRAK to disable security software is known as Software Restriction Policies. It was first introduced in Windows® XP and Server 2003. It can be thought of as a very early form of whitelisting or blacklisting feature. Microsoft’s own documentation states that this feature was intended to perform the following:

    1. Fight viruses
    2. Regulate which ActiveX controls can be downloaded
    3. Run only digitally signed scripts
    4. Enforce that only approved software is installed on system computers
    5. Lock down a machine

    There are several methods that can be used to identify which files are blocked from running on a system. In the case of VAWTRAK, it uses the path where the applications are installed to determine if they should be blocked or not. It looks for the following directories under the %Program Files% and %All Users Profile%\Application folder, which are used by various security products:

    • a-squared Anti-Malware
    • a-squared HiJackFree
    • Agnitum
    • Alwil Software
    • AnVir Task Manager
    • ArcaBit
    • AVAST Software
    • AVG
    • avg8
    • Avira GmbH
    • Avira
    • BitDefender
    • BlockPost
    • Common Files\Doctor Web
    • Common Files\G DATA
    • Common Files\P Tools
    • Common Files\Symantec Shared
    • DefenseWall
    • DefenseWall HIPS
    • Doctor Web
    • DrWeb
    • ESET
    • f-secure
    • F-Secure\F-Secure Internet Security
    • FRISK Software
    • G DATA
    • K7 Computing
    • Kaspersky Lab Setup Files
    • Kaspersky Lab
    • Lavasoft
    • Malwarebytes
    • Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware
    • McAfee
    • Microsoft Security Client
    • Microsoft Security Essentials
    • Microsoft\Microsoft Antimalware
    • Norton AntiVirus
    • Online Solutions
    • P Tools Internet Security
    • P Tools
    • Panda Security
    • Positive Technologies
    • Sandboxie
    • Security Task Manager
    • Spyware Terminator
    • Sunbelt Software
    • Symantec
    • Trend Micro
    • UAenter
    • Vba32
    • Xore
    • Zillya Antivirus

    If it finds that any of the above directories are present, it adds the following registry entries to force applications in that directory to run with restricted privileges:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Safer\CodeIdentifiers\Paths\{generated GUID for the AV software} ItemData = “{AV software path}” SaferFlags = “0”

    As a result, any file under the said directory would not run, returning the following error message:

    Figure 1. Error message

    This is not the only time we have seen this tactic used, but the prominence of recent VAWTRAK attacks means there are more users affected by it than normal.

    To protect our users, we not only detect and remove BKDR_VAWTRAK malware, but we also specifically detect this particular behavior to ensure that Trend Micro products are able to run and provide the necessary protection as needed. We encourage users to download and use the latest available pattern files to ensure they have the most up-to-date protection available.

    Special mention to Rhena Inocencio for the malware analysis and Roddell Santos and Dexter To for the validation of this security feature.

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    • bluebanana

      Feel depressed at nowadays’ so-called anti-virus tech, Cloud? BigData? No help at all. Threats not exist, but grow, explosively. We Coders should feel ashamed.

    • Bhaskar Bhat

      Thank you guys for sharing this, Windows is too open to have any discipline. Microsoft is not bothered to enforce anything either.


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