New research from Kaspersky Lab shows that cyber-attack activity involving Syria is stepping up in terms of both sophistication and organization.
The latest malware attacks have infected more than 10,000 users, with some files downloaded more than 2,000 times. The victims of these attacks are distributed around the globe, with countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine also being hit by the attackers. The United Arab Emirates, Israel, Morocco, France and the United States have also been hit with attacks.
The hackers themselves are operating from multiple countries as well, in particular Syria, Lebanon and the Russian Federation.
“The group’s attacks are evolving and they are making extensive use of social engineering techniques to trick targeted victims into running their malicious files,” Kaspersky Lab noted in a report on the issue. “Among the principal file extensions observed among the malware samples obtained we can list: .exe, .dll, .pif [and] .scr.”
According to Kaspersky Lab, online posts, forums and identification videos make it clear the group has an organized structure of teams working together.
The group relies on remote access tools such as Dark Comet RAT, Xtreme RAT and NjRAT. Twenty domains and 47 IP addresses have been linked to the attacks. To deliver the malware, the attackers use a variety of techniques. Much of the time, they rely on social engineering that takes advantage of trust on social networking forums or curiosity in news related to the conflict in Syria. For example, a YouTube video showing injured victims of recent bombings was used to prompt viewers to download a malicious application.
Other attacks take advantage of the victim’s desire for better security.
“If you thought the era of fake antivirus programs was over, here comes a newly developed sample to challenge your beliefs,” according to the Kaspersky Lab report. “With the innocent title of “Ammazon Internet Security”, this malicious application tries to mimic a security scanner, even including a quite thorough graphical user interface and some interactive functionality.”
The attackers also offer a modified version of a legitimate app known as ‘Total Network Monitor’.
“What this modified version does not show is the remote connection made to a host where f system information is dumped,” according to the report. “The actual infection is performed when first clicking on the installer, which uses obfuscation to hide all malicious activity until the “legitimate” tool is completely installed.”
“A combination of factors – social engineering, rapid app development and remote administration tools for taking over the victim’s entire system – creates a worrying scenario for unsuspecting users,” said Ghareeb Saad, senior security researcher of the Global Research & Analysis Team at Kaspersky Lab, in a statement. “We expect attacks by Syrian malware to continue and evolve both in quality and quantity. Therefore, users should be especially careful of suspicious links, double checking their downloads and have a reliable and comprehensive security solution installed.”