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'Nitro' Attackers Using Java Zero-Day

The group behind the Nitro attacks has joined the list of those exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in Java.

The vulnerability, CVE-2012-4681, was patched earlier today by Oracle following reports that attackers are circling, including those using the infamous Black Hole toolkit. Now, according to Symantec, the group behind the Nitro attacks targeting the chemical industry has added the vulnerability to its malicious toolbox.

"The traditional modus operandi of the Nitro attackers is to send an email to victims," Symantec's Security Response team noted in a blog post. "That email contains an attachment, which is a password-protected self-extracting zip file. The email claims to be an update for some piece of commonly installed software. The targeted user extracts it, runs it, and is infected with a copy of Backdoor.Darkmoon (also known as Poison Ivy)."

The Nitro attacks were first detected by security pros last year. The attack campaign began in April 2011, and was initially targeting human rights organizations. Eventually, the attackers moved on to the chemical sector. Among the victims were multiple Fortune 100 companies involved in research and development of chemical compounds, as well as companies that develop materials for military vehicles.

In this latest round of attacks, the hackers have turned to compromised websites to infect their victims using a .jar file. The attackers are still utilizing the remote administration tool Poison Ivy as well as the command-and-control infrastructure and file names from previous attacks, Symantec found. It is likely the attackers are sending emails to targeted users that contain a link to the malicious site, the firm said.

"The (Java) vulnerability consists of a privilege escalation due to a class that allows access to protected members of system classes, which should not be accessible," Symantec explained. "Because of this, malicious code can bypass the restrictions imposed by the sandbox and use the “getRuntime().exec()” function in order to execute a malicious payload. In our tests, we have confirmed that the zero-day works on the latest version of Java (JRE 1.7), but it does not work on the older version JRE 1.6."

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