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Magic mystery malware menaces many UK machines - new claim

Who exactly is spying on thousands of Brit biz PCs?

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Security researchers have found malware that communicates using an unknown protocol and is largely targeting UK businesses.

The mystery software nasty has infected thousands of machines at organisations in finance, education, telecoms and other sectors, we're told.

It initially phones home to its masters by establishing a HTTP connection to what appear to be a command-and-control server. The malicious software then uses a custom protocol to authenticate itself, and always uses a magic word - literally, some_magic_code1 - at the start of the conversation, according to security researchers at Seculert.

In one instance, the malware contacted the command server for further instructions, and was told to create a new user — username: WINDOWS, password: MyPass1234 — enabling the attacker to remotely log into the infected computer. The malware appears to be in development as new features are being added. Even though Seculert's researchers have had it under observation for around a month, its true aim remains unclear.

"We have seen several indications of features which are not yet implemented, and functions which are not yet used by the malware," Seculert staff explained in a blog post. "For instance, in case the attacker would like to open a browser on the victim’s machine, the malware will popup on the RDP session for the attacker a box with the message: 'TODO:Start browser!'

"This 'magic malware' — as we’ve dubbed it — is active, persistent and had remained undetected on the targeted machines for the past 11 months. Since then the attackers were able to target several thousands of different entities, most of them located in the United Kingdom."

The small and annoying irritant can also steal information and inject malicious HTML into a running web browser, we're told. However the "real intention of the attackers behind this magic malware … is yet to be known", according to Seculert.

At present the malware appears to be monitoring the activities of its targeted entities, but since it's readily capable of downloading and executing additional malicious files it might easily be activated at any time to launch a broader attack.

"This campaign has been active and under the radar for almost a year, targeting mostly UK entities," Aviv Raff, CTO of Seculert, told The Register. "Also, the malware seems to be still under development by the attackers."

Raff said that the malware appeared to be largely targeted a business users.

"During our research we have found that this persistent threat infected thousands of machines (mainly from the UK), targeting several different industries– including finance, education and telecoms," Raff explained. "We have also seen individuals being targeted, but because of the malware capabilities of remote access and hijacking web browsing sessions, we believe that those individuals are employees connecting from remote to corporate assets (e.g. outlook web access).

"The custom protocol of the malware requires a magic code for 'authentication'. The C2 server will only expose the commands for the infected machine, if the magic code will be provided at the beginning of the custom-protocol request." ®

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