An Israeli company with ties to Ukraine is believed to be involved in the creation of a piece of malware, which it has distributed with the aid of adware, Trend Micro said in a new research paper published Monday.
The firm in question is iBario Ltd., which is responsible for creating InstallBrain, an installer that bundles legitimate applications with potentially unwanted third-party programs.
According to Trend Micro, the adware has been used to deliver Mevade/Sefnit malware, which is used for click-fraud and Bitcoin mining, onto the computers on which it’s installed.
The Mevade malware has been around for years, but managed to go unnoticed until August 2013 when its creators made some changes to bot communications, resulting in a considerable increase in the number of Tor users. Experts believe that the Israeli company has been involved in the development and distribution of the threat since at least 2011.
When Trend Micro started monitoring the threat, it noticed infections in over 68 countries.
According to Trend Micro, the adware has been installed on millions of computers across 150 countries, which makes it an ideal channel for spreading malware. However, since almost no infections have been spotted in Israel, the security company believes that the creators of InstallBrain might have avoided it on purpose to make sure they would not end up on the radar of local law enforcement.
After Microsoft first made the connection between Mevade and InstallBrain, iBario replaced the name InstallBrain with UnknownFile on its corporate websites, but Trend Micro says this is just a successor of the initial piece of adware.
While iBario representatives told the press that they operate everything from Israel, security researchers have found evidence that the services of Ukrainian contractors are also used. The contractors from Ukraine have helped the company develop both InstallBrain and the Mevade malware, one of their main roles being to ensure low antivirus detection rates, Trend Micro said.
“The history of MEVADE/SEFNIT demonstrates that adware can pose great risks to end users. Internet users are often misled to install stuff they do not want to. At any point in time, an adware company can decide to install more dangerous malware in users’ computers. iBario appears to be one such example,” the security firm noted in its paper.
The complete report on the actors behind MEVADE/SEFNIT is available online in PDF format.