Feeds

NSA's TURBINE robot can pump 'malware into MILLIONS of PCs'

Sysadmins, routers, criminals' IRC botnets, and maybe terrorists, all for the pwning

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Inside Uncle Sam's malware war chest

The Snowden documents show that the TAO team now has access to a very sophisticated toolkit for implanting trackers on systems, and how the methods of spreading the code have evolved to match consumer behavior.

A 2012 presentation complains that the traditional method of infection, spamming out infected attachments, was only achieving a one per cent success rate because people are getting smarter about avoiding potentially malicious downloads. To get around this, the agency switched to browser attacks, which it said upped success rates to 80 per cent in some cases.

Targets visiting certain websites were redirected to an NSA WILLOWVIXEN server, allowing software called FOXACID to find a browser vulnerability and exploit this to compromise the PC or handheld. The documents claim that a fake Facebook server was set up for this purpose and used to distribute malware dubbed QUANTUMHAND, which went live in October 2010.

"If we can get the target to visit us in some sort of web browser, we can probably own them," a TAO team member reports in one document. "The only limitation is the 'how.'"

Other code, called SECONDDATE uses a man-in-the-middle attack to allow "mass exploitation potential for clients passing through network choke points, but is configurable to allow surgical target selection as well."

A 2010 presentation also gives details about the QUANTUM family of malware developed by the government for attacking systems. This includes code for the redirection of web traffic, controlling crooks' IRC botnets, hijacking DNS, and corrupting downloads.

Another malware system, called UNITEDRAKE, comes with a selection of plugins for different purposes, each with its own classification. The CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE plugin will take over a system's microphone to record conversations, FOGGYBOTTOM will record internet history and login details, and SALVAGERABBIT copies the contents of any flash drives plugged into the machine.

The agency is well aware that antivirus companies are on the lookout for new and interesting malware samples, particularly after the Flame debacle. A NSA trojan dubbed VALIDATOR can be set with an automatic self-destruct sequence and delete itself from a target's system after a set period.

The madness is spreading

Despite efforts to limit the exposure of its systems to outside interest, the documents show that the NSA is aware that other governments are copying their techniques.

"Hacking routers has been good business for us and our 5-eyes partners for some time," notes one NSA analyst in a top-secret document dated December 2012. "But it is becoming more apparent that other nation states are honing their skillz [sic] and joining the scene."

This is already worrying security analysts, and was top of the agenda at last month's TrustyCon conference. F-Secure's malware research chief Mikko Hyppönen told the summit that so far government-developed malware was coming from Germany, Russia, China, and even Sweden, and there was a thriving trade by ethically challenged companies willing to develop malware for repressive regimes.

Similar concerns were echoed at the RSA 2014 conference, with the company's chairman Art Coviello calling for an international moratorium on attack code before the situation gets out of control. If government cyberattacks are normalized then the effects on the general public could be catastrophic, he noted, but there's no sign of a change of policy from the NSA.

"As the [US] President made clear on 17 January," the agency said in a statement, "signals intelligence shall be collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose to support national and departmental missions, and not for any other purposes." ®

Updated to add

You may be interested to know that the NSA has responded to the claims first published by The Intercept.

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
'Regin': The 'New Stuxnet' spook-grade SOFTWARE WEAPON described
'A degree of technical competence rarely seen'
You really need to do some tech support for Aunty Agnes
Free anti-virus software, expires, stops updating and p0wns the world
Regin: The super-spyware the security industry has been silent about
NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family
You stupid BRICK! PCs running Avast AV can't handle Windows fixes
Fix issued, fingers pointed, forums in flames
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
HACKERS can DELETE SURVEILLANCE DVRS remotely – report
Hikvision devices wide open to hacking, claim securobods
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?