Security Experts:

ESET Analyzes Complex Espionage Platform Used by "Animal Farm" APT

Researchers at security firm ESET have conducted a detailed analysis of Dino, a sophisticated espionage platform developed and used by the APT actor known as “Animal Farm.”

The existence of malware used by Animal Farm came to light in March 2014 when a French publication released some slides leaked by Edward Snowden. The slides, belonging to Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSE), describe a campaign dubbed “Operation Snowglobe.”

The document shows some of the tools used in the campaign and a list of targeted organizations. It also notes that the group behind the operation is likely backed by a French intelligence agency.

Since the slides were published, several security firms obtained malware samples with capabilities and code similar to what CSE described in its document.

Over the past months, experts at ESET, Cyphort and G DATA have published papers on Babar, EvilBunny (Bunny), and Casper. In addition, the list of malware families used by Animal Farm also includes NBot, Tafacalou (TFC / Transporter) and Dino.

According to a report published today by ESET, Dino is a sophisticated backdoor that uses different modules to carry out its tasks. Its main goal appears to be the theft of files from infected systems. The sample analyzed by ESET was used in 2013 to target organizations in Iran.

ESET researcher Joan Calvet, who has been analyzing the Animal Farm for several months, has pointed out in a blog post that the name Dino might be referring to the pet dinosaur from the animated television series “The Flintstones.” It’s worth noting that experts believe the name Babar might be inspired by a fictional elephant from a French children’s book, while the name Casper could stem from the animated cartoon series “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

The security firm says it hasn’t determined Dino’s initial infection vector, but it believes the threat is installed by another program. In a blog post on the Animal Farm APT published in March, Kaspersky Lab noted that Tafacalou acts as an entry point for the group’s more sophisticated spy platforms Babar and Dino.

Once it infects a system, Dino can be commanded to retrieve system information from the infected machine, execute Windows batch commands, search for specific files, upload files to the command and control (C&C) server, and download files from the C&C. The malware operators can also schedule commands to be executed at a specified time, and they can uninstall the threat from the system by leaving only few traces of its existence.

Experts have uncovered several pieces of shared code that show a clear connection between Dino and other threats from the Animal Farm malware families. In addition, Dino also provides more evidence that the developers of these malware families are French speakers.

The language identifier present in more recent Animal Farm malware, such as the reconnaissance tool Casper, has been set to English. However, in the case of Dino, the value of the language code is 1036, which corresponds to French. It’s worth noting that the compiler automatically sets this identifier to the language of the developer’s machine unless a code is manually set.

Calvet has pointed out that while it is possible that the French language code was set as a false flag, a more likely scenario is that the developers forgot to change the value of the language identifier when they created Dino.

Another piece of evidence suggesting that Dino developers speak French is a file path that contains the word “arithmetique,” which is French for “arithmetic.”

Researchers have highlighted that while Dino appears to have been created by professional and experienced developers, they haven’t put much effort into anti-analysis features, like the ones found in other Animal Farm threats such as Casper.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.