Security Experts:

Equation Group Attack Platform Detailed

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab pulled back more of the layers covering the activities of the Equation Group today with the release of details about the EquationDrug platform.

The Equation Group was brought out of the shadows a month ago and linked to cyber-espionage attacks stretching back more than a decade. Kaspersky Lab stopped short of naming names but identified the group as state-sponsored, which given the complexity of the attacks and other evidence led some to point fingers at the United States.

"EquationDrug, which is still in use, dates back to 2003, although the more modern GrayFish platform is being pushed to new victims," explained Kaspersky Labs' Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT). "It's important to note that EquationDrug is not just a Trojan, but a full espionage platform, which includes a framework for conducting cyberespionage activities by deploying specific modules on the machines of selected victims. The concept of a cyberespionage platform is neither new nor unique."

Described by Kaspersky Lab as a full-espionage platform, EquationDrug features dozens of executables, configurations and protected storage locations. It is also estimated to include 116 different plugins that allow the group to perform a wide range of different functions depending on their target and the information they hold.

"The architecture of the whole framework resembles a mini-operating system with kernel-mode and user-mode components carefully interacting with each other via a custom message-passing interface," according to Kaspersky Lab. "The platform includes a set of drivers, a platform core (orchestrator) and a number of plugins. Every plugin has a unique ID and version number that defines a set of functions it can provide. Some of the plugins depend on others and might not work unless dependencies are resolved."

"The plugins we discovered probably represent just a fraction of the attackers' potential," the researchers noted. "Each plugin is assigned a unique plugin ID number (WORD), such as 0x8000, 0x8002, 0x8004, 0x8006, etc. All plugin IDs are even numbers and they all start from byte 0x80. The biggest plugin ID we have seen is 0x80CA. To date, we have found 30 unique plugin IDs in total. Considering the fact that the developers assigned plugin IDs incrementally, and assuming that other plugin IDs were assigned to modules that we have not yet discovered, it's not hard to calculate that 86 modules have yet to be discovered."

Some of the modules identified by Kaspersky Lab include the following functionality: network traffic interception for stealing or re-routing, system information gathering and HDD and SSD firmware manipulation.

"The EquationDrug case demonstrates an interesting trend that we have been seeing while analyzing supposedly nation-state cyberattack tools: a growth in code sophistication," according to Kaspersky Lab. "It is clear that nation-state attackers are looking for better stability, invisibility, reliability and universality in their cyberespionage tools. You can make a basic browser password-stealer or a sniffer within days.  However, nation-states are focused on creating frameworks for wrapping such code into something that can be customized on live systems and provide a reliable way to store all components and data in encrypted form, inaccessible to normal users."

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