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‘njRAT’ Malware Gains Popularity Among Middle East Attack Groups

Attackers in the Middle East are increasingly adding a new tool into their toolbox, according to Symantec. 

Attackers in the Middle East are increasingly adding a new tool into their toolbox, according to Symantec. 

Researchers at the security firm say that a remote access tool known as njRAT is gaining popularity among attack groups in the region. For the most part, njRAT appears to be used for ordinary cybercrime, however it has also been spotted on government systems in the region. It has only been publicly available since June of 2013, but it may have been developed and distributed privately as early as 2012, according to Symantec.

In terms of capabilities, njRAT is similar to most other remote access tools (RATs). What distinguishes it is that it is developed and supported by Arabic speakers and has therefore become popular among attackers in the region, Symantec noted.

According to Symantec, njRAT can download and execute additional malware, execute shell commands, read and write registry keys and capture screenshots. It can also log keystrokes and spy on webcams. It spreads using infected USB keys and networked drives.

“The main reason for njRAT’s popularity in the Middle East and North Africa is a large online community providing support in the form of instructions and tutorials for the malware’s development,” according to Symantec’s Security Response Team. “The malware’s author also appears to hail from the region. njRAT appears to have been written by a Kuwait-based individual who uses the Twitter handle @njq8. The account has been used to provide updates on when new versions of the malware are available to download.”

The majority of the command-and-control server IP addresses were traced to ADSL lines, indicating that most of the attackers using the malware could be home users in the Middle East, according to the firm. So far, some 24,000 computers have been found to be infected worldwide, and 542 command-and-control server domain names have been discovered. Nearly 80 percent of the C&C servers were located in the Middle East and North Africa, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.

Symantec has identified 487 groups of attackers using njRAT. The attacks appear to have a variety of motivations, from hacktivism to simple information theft. One such group is the S.K.Y.P.E/Tagged group, which has C&C servers hosted in Egypt and Algeria and uses a screensaver hosted on the file sharing site ge.tt to infect users. When victims download the compressed .rar file with the screensaver, they get an executable containing njRAT.

“The S.K.Y.P.E/Tagged group uses two C&C servers: njratmoony.no-ip.biz and njr.no-ip.biz,” according to Symantec. ‘The number of newly infected computers reporting to both servers spiked in October and November of 2012.”

The malware has also been spotted being used by pro-Syrian government attackers in cyber-attacks on the opposition. According to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Citizen Lab, the malware exfiltrates data to a command-and-control server at hacker1987.zapto.org, which resolves to 46.213.0.220, which is also on the Syriatel Mobile network.  

“As large numbers of Middle Eastern attackers continue to use njRAT due to its accessibility, Symantec expects that they will try to find new ways of obfuscating the malware to evade detection by antivirus software,” the Security Response Team continued. “They are likely to continue to use njRAT since an Arabic speaking community and its Arabic author (continues) to provide support for the malware. The more advanced threat actors, such as hacker groups, may continue to use njRAT for targeted attacks in the short term.”

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