Researchers at BitDefender have found a new version of the MiniDuke malware that has been operating for at least 21 months.
MiniDuke was first publicized last week after it was analyzed by researchers with Kaspersky Lab and CrySys Lab at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. The malware, which exploited a recently patched vulnerability in Adobe Reader, has been used as part of an attack on a series of high-profile government targets in countries such as the Ukraine, Belgium, Czech Republic and others. In addition, two think-tanks and a healthcare provider in the U.S. were also targeted, as was a research foundation in Hungary.
According to BitDefender, the recently-discovered sample dates back to at least June 20, 2011, predating the other version by a year.
“The discovery of this older MiniDuke malware strain raises questions about the origin of the 2012 samples and the malware as a whole,” BitDefender Chief Security Strategist Catalin Cosoi said in a statement. “The switch from a US Navy clock to a Chinese clock suggests the malware’s designers are simply throwing up a smoke cloud as to their identity.”
There has been much speculation about the origins of MiniDuke. A spokesperson for Romania’s SRI secret service told Reuters March 1 that the situation appeared to be tied with an “entity that has the characteristics of a state actor,” though the agency did not identify any potential perpetrators.
“Our estimations show the attack is certainly relevant to Romania’s national security taking into account the profile of the compromised entities,” SRI spokesman Sorin Sava told Reuters.
As of March 4, the newly discovered MiniDuke sample was still seeking encrypted command and control instructions via an active Twitter account, with a single instruction dated February 21st, 2012. The 2011 version does not use Google to search for command and control instructions, and lays dormant if it can’t connect to Twitter, according to BitDefender. All the versions of the malware are designed to steal information, Cosoi said.
“MiniDuke was clearly designed as a cyber-espionage tool to specifically target key sensitive government data,” he said. “This casts a degree of doubt on who designed MiniDuke.”