Feeds

Ultra stealthy spy malware not so stealthy after all

APT and the tell-tale error message

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

A researcher has discovered a flaw in software used to spy on government agencies and contractors that can alert security personnel that their networks have been infiltrated by the otherwise hard-to-detect programs.

The discovery by Joe Stewart, Dell SecureWorks' director of malware research, could help administrators detect so-called APT, or advanced persistent threats, such as the one revealed Tuesday that silently stalked 70 global companies, governments and non-profit organizations for as long as 28 months. While the underlying malware in these types of attacks are designed to give no clues about their presence, some of the programs broadcast error messages that are easily detected.

The error messages will continue to be viewable in organizations' network logs until the malware developers write updates that squelch the notifications. That makes it imperative that security personnel act now to capitalize on the discovery.

“For a limited time, institutions can look for signs of activity across their networks,” Stewart told The Register. “They've got a window of opportunity to check to see if they're maybe targeted as well. Trying to detect APT is hard. Any clues are good.”

The error messages are generated by tool known as HTran, which is commonly bundled with APT malware. It acts as a simplified reverse proxy server that funnels communications with a command and control channel through intermediary servers that are designed to look innocuous. When the control servers are unavailable because of network bottlenecks or other problems, some versions of HTran display error messages on the infected machine.

HTran has been in use by APT programs for years, so Stewart is guessing the tell-tale signs of infection have long been in front of researchers' noses and no one has noticed.

“I can't believe I'm the first one to see this, but I haven't seen anyone else share this information before,” he said. “We need to be doing more information sharing and trying to give each other ways to pick up this activity. Keeping this all secret isn't doing anybody any favors.” ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
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.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.