Security Experts:

Researchers Flag 'Significant Escalation' in Software Supply Chain Attacks

Security researchers at ReversingLabs are warning of a “significant escalation in software supply chain attacks” after discovering more than two dozen malicious NPM packages siphoning user data from mobile and desktop applications.

The latest attack, dubbed Iconburst, is described as a widespread and coordinated campaign to install malicious Javascript packages offered via the open source NPM package manager.  

“Upon closer inspection, we discovered evidence of a coordinated supply chain attack, with a large number of NPM packages containing jQuery scripts designed to steal form data from deployed applications that include them,” the company said in a research note published this week. 

“While the full extent of this attack isn’t yet known, the malicious packages we discovered are likely used by hundreds, if not thousands of downstream mobile and desktop applications as well as websites. In one case, a malicious package had been downloaded more than 17,000 times,” ReversingLabs added.

[ READ: Threat Actor Caught 'Fully Automating' NPM Supply Chain Attacks ]

The company said its analysis of the modules revealed evidence of coordination, with malicious modules traceable to a small number of NPM publishers, and consistent patterns in supporting infrastructure such as exfiltration domains. 

“This attack marks a significant escalation in software supply chain attacks. Malicious code bundled within the NPM modules is running within an unknown number of mobile and desktop applications and web pages, harvesting untold amounts of user data,” ReversingLabs said, noting that the attacks persisted for several months before discovery.

“While a few of the named packages have been removed from NPM, most are still available for download at the time of this report.”

The ReversingLabs warning coincides with a separate advisory from Checkmarx on the discovery of a burst of suspicious NPM uses and packages being created as part of preparations for a large-scale crypto mining campaign on NPM users.

[ READ: 'Critical' Warning: Malware Found in Widely Deployed NPM Packages ]

[We] detected over 1200 npm packages released to the registry by over a thousand different user accounts. This was done using automation which includes the ability to pass NPM 2FA challenge. This cluster of packages seems to be a part of an attacker experimenting at this point,” Checkmarx said.

“This suspicious activity includes over 1200 packages, of which more than 1000 are still available on the NPM registry. These packages were published by close to 1000 automatically created users,” the company added.

In recent months, security defects in the NPM ecosystem have led to high-profile software supply chain compromises. Last November, GitHub confirmed that two popular npm package managers -- the Coa parser and the rc configuration loader -- were compromised and rigged with password-stealing malware.

Prior to that, crypto-mining and password-stealing malware were found embedded in an npm package (JavaScript library) that counts close to 8 million downloads per week.

Related: GitHub Confirms Another Major NPM Security Defect

Related: Checkmarx Finds Threat Actor 'Fully Automating' NPM Supply Chain Attacks

Related: 'Critical Severity' Warning: Malware Found in Widely Deployed NPM Packages

Related: Malware Found Embedded in Popular JavaScript Library

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Ryan Naraine is Editor-at-Large at SecurityWeek and host of the popular Security Conversations podcast series. Ryan is a veteran cybersecurity strategist who has built security engagement programs at major global brands, including Intel Corp., Bishop Fox and GReAT. He is a co-founder of Threatpost and the global SAS conference series. Ryan's past career as a security journalist included bylines at major technology publications including Ziff Davis eWEEK, CBS Interactive's ZDNet, PCMag and PC World. Ryan is a director of the Security Tinkerers non-profit, an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs, and a regular speaker at security conferences around the world. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanaraine.