Security Experts:

Symantec Finds 49 New Modules of "Regin" Cyberespionage Tool

The actor behind the sophisticated cyberespionage tool dubbed “Regin” has not given up on its operations after its activities were exposed last year by security firms.

The malware, which has been around since at least 2008, has been used by a threat group to target private individuals and organizations in sectors such as hospitality, telecoms, energy, research, and aviation. A report published by Symantec in November 2014 revealed that most Regin infections had been spotted in Russia (28%) and Saudi Arabia (24%), but the malware had also been seen in Mexico, Ireland, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Belgium, Austria and Pakistan.

News website The Intercept linked the platform to US and British intelligence agencies. The malware, apparently referenced in documents leaked by Edward Snowden, is said to have been used in attacks against government agencies in the EU and the Belgian telecoms company Belgacom.

Regin, considered one of the most sophisticated espionage tools discovered to date, has a six-stage architecture. Attacks start with a dropper that installs the malware onto the targeted machine. In the first stages, drivers are loaded and the malware’s internal services are configured, while in the last stage the main payloads and deployed.

The platform has a modular structure that allows its operators to add and remove features depending on the targeted entity.

Symantec has kept a close eye on the threat and today revealed that it has uncovered 49 new modules, which brings the total number to 75. However, experts have pointed out that other such components likely exist based on references found in the analyzed modules.

An updated version of the security firm’s original report reveals that the newly discovered modules can be used for logging, keylogging, impersonation, file system forensics and monitoring, network packet capturing, hooking, system and network information harvesting, credentials theft, email reading and writing, and many other functions.

According to Symantec, Regin is backed by an extensive command and control (C&C) infrastructure that involves peer-to-peer (P2P) communications between infected computers.

“Regin’s P2P communications capability sees each Regin infection assigned a virtual IP address, forming a virtual private network (VPN) on top of the physical network of the infected computer,” Symantec explained in a blog post. “This P2P capability allows the attackers to maintain deep access to critical assets within compromised organizations and mask core infrastructure belonging to the group. Traffic between nodes can be configured to match expected protocols based on where the nodes are placed on a network, adding a further degree of stealth to communications.”

Communication between the various Regin modules is powered by a custom-built remote procedure call (RPC) mechanism that enables the attackers to remotely install, update, and configure modules.

“Despite the threat’s exposure last year, it is unlikely that the group behind this malware has ceased operations,” Symantec noted. “Its track record and available resources mean it is probable that the group will re-equip itself with a new threat or upgrade Regin in a bid to evade detection. The latter is the most likely course of action, given the time it would take to develop an equally capable malware framework from scratch.”

Researchers believe Regin is far more sophisticated than other malware and it might be used as a source of inspiration by less advanced threat groups looking to improve their arsenal.

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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.