Researchers at Symantec have observed a sophisticated, multi-stage attack campaign focused on energy companies in the Middle East.
First observed between January and February, the attack campaign was spotted using a new piece of malware dubbed ‘Laziok’, which Symantec has classified as a reconnaissance tool and an information stealer. The attacks are focused on the petroleum, gas and helium industries, with by far the largest percentage of victims (25 percent) being located in the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Kuwait account for 10 percent apiece of the Laziok infections detected by Symantec. Five percent of the infections occurred in the United States.
“The initial infection vector involves the use of spam emails coming from the moneytrans[.]eu domain, which acts as an open relay Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) server,” blogged Symantec Security Response Manager Christian Tripputi. “These emails include a malicious attachment packed with an exploit for the Microsoft Windows Common Controls ActiveX Control Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (CVE-2012-0158). This vulnerability has been exploited in many different attack campaigns in the past, such as Red October.”
If a vulnerable user opens the email attachment – typically an Excel file – the exploit code is executed and the malware is dropped. Once on the system, Laziok begins collecting system configuration data, such as: installed software, RAM size and GPU details. If the attackers judge the infected system to be interesting, the attack continues on to the next phase.
“Once the attackers received the system configuration data, including details of any installed antivirus software, they then infect the computer with additional malware,” Tripputi noted. “In this campaign, the attackers distributed customized copies of Backdoor.Cyberat and Trojan.Zbot which are specifically tailored for the compromised computer’s profile. We observed that the threats were downloaded from a few servers operating in the US, UK, and Bulgaria.”
“The group behind the attack does not seem to be particularly advanced, as they exploited an old vulnerability and used their attack to distribute well-known threats that are available in the underground market,” Tripputi blogged.
“However,” he added, “many people still fail to apply patches for vulnerabilities that are several years old, leaving themselves open to attacks of this kind. From the attacker’s perspective, they don’t always need to have the latest tools at their disposal to succeed. All they need is a bit of help from the user and a lapse in security operations through the failure to patch.”