Feeds

Cyber sleuth sees China's fingerprints on 'Aurora' attacks

Jury still out

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

A security researcher who reverse engineered code used to attack Google and other large companies has said he found what he believes are the fingerprints of Chinese hackers.

The telltale sign, according to Joe Stewart, director of SecureWorks' Counter Threat unit, is is an error-checking algorithm in the software that installed the Hydraq backdoor on compromised PCs. The CRC, or cyclic redundancy check, used a table of only 16 constants, a compact version of the more standard 256-value table.

After searching online, Stewart located only one instance of source code that contained a matching structure that generated the same output from a given input: This paper published in simplified Chinese characters on optimizing CRC algorithms for use in microcontrollers.

"This CRC-16 implementation seems to be virtually unknown outside of China, as shown by a Google search for one of the key variables, 'crc_ta[16],'" Stewart wrote. "This indicates the Aurora codebase originated with someone who is comfortable reading simplified Chinese. Although source code itself is not restrained by any particular human language or nationality, most programmers reuse code documented in their native language."

Perhaps, but we're not entirely convinced. Stewart readily admits the algorithm is a "clever optimization" that allows the CRC routine to be used in applications where memory is at a premium. If it's that good, it's plausible that attackers not aligned with the People's Republic of China might have heard of it.

What's more, binary code used in Hydraq was either compiled on an English-language system or was edited after the fact to conceal its Chinese-language roots. And Operation Aurora - rather some Chinese codename - came from strings put into the source code to indicate where debug file paths were located.

So for the time being, we'll continue to consider the evidence of Chinese involvement to be circumstantial rather than direct. Either way, Stewart's detective work is impressive. His full report is here. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Boffins build FREE SUPERCOMPUTER from free cloud server trials
Who cares about T&Cs when there's LIteCoin to mint?
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.