The website of security certification provider EC Council, best known for its Certified Ethical Hacker program, has been serving the Angler exploit kit (EK) for the past few days and continues to do so, security researchers at Fox-IT warn.
The Angler EK variant used in the campaign is serving TeslaCrypt ransomware as the malicious payload, which encrypts the files on compromised computers and holds them for ransom. Victims are then asked to pay around 1.5 BTC (or around $600) to regain access to their files.
According to Fox-IT senior threat intelligence analyst Yonathan Klijnsma, the website has was spotted redirecting visitors to the Angler EK on Monday, March 21, and the redirect is still present as of the time of this writing, although EC Council has been alerted on the matter. The researcher suggests that the redirect might have been there for a longer period of time.
Klijnsma explains in a blog post that the redirect is performed only if the visitors use Internet Explorer, if they come from a search engine such as Google or Bing, and if they don’t visit the website from an IP address that is blacklisted or belongs to a blocked geolocation. Basically, the attack was designed to avoid infecting users in certain countries, Klijnsma said.
Fox-IT researchers discovered that malicious code has been embedded at the bottom of EC Council’s iClass website for CEH certification, and that visitors are redirected a couple of times before ending up on a landing page infected with the Angler EK.
Responsible for injecting the redirect into the webpage is PHP code on the webserver, and researchers suggest that the culprit might be a security flaw in the website. EC Council’s website is using the popular WordPress CMS, which has been a highly popular target for cybercriminals for many years.
As soon as the user arrives on Angler’s landing page, the EK seeks to exploit vulnerabilities in the browser, Flash Player, or Silverlight plugin to deliver the malicious payload. If an exploitable vulnerability is found, Angler starts the ‘Bedep’ loader, which instead downloads the final payload, the file-encrypting ransomware.
The news comes roughly a week after multiple security firms warned of a malvertising campaign targeting top global websites, which also directed users to the Angler EK. The campaign involved malicious ads that appeared on some of the most popular sites out there, including msn.com, nytimes.com, bbc.com, aol.com, nfl.com, and others.
As Ilia Kolochenko, CEO at High-Tech Bridge, told SecurityWeek that vulnerable websites and web applications have long been the target of choice for cybercriminals looking to compromise unsuspecting end-users. Because automated scanners are no longer efficient in detecting flaws, companies should regularly and holistically assess every externally accessible web application to prevent such embarrassing incidents, he said.
“Insecure websites and web applications have become the main source of drive-by-download, watering hole and spear-phishing attacks. Unfortunately, many cybersecurity professionals seriously underestimate the impact a compromised corporate website may have on their local network, intellectual property and customers' data. Even if a website does not contain a single byte of sensitive or confidential information, it can easily open doors to all internal systems,” Kolochenko said.
“The compromise of EC-Council website is an important signal that cybercriminals have started targeting the infosec audience on a regular basis, in order to compromise their machines and thus their corporate cybersecurity secrets. Targeted attacks against cybersecurity employees will become a very big problem in the future, as quite often a compromise of a network security administrator means the compromise of an entire company or organization,” Kolochenko added.