'Nitro' hackers use stock malware to steal chemical, defense secrets
Symantec traces one command-and-control server to China
Computerworld - Attackers used an off-the-shelf Trojan horse to sniff out secrets from nearly 50 companies, many of them in the chemical and defense industries, Symantec researchers said today.
The attack campaign -- which Symantec tagged as "Nitro" -- started no later than last July and continued until mid-September, targeting an unknown number of companies and infecting at least 48 firms with the "Poison Ivy" remote-access Trojan (RAT).
Poison Ivy, which was created by a Chinese hacker, is widely available on the Internet, including from a dedicated website.
The malware has been implicated in numerous attacks, including the March campaign that hacked the network of RSA Security and swiped information about that company's SecurID authentication token technology.
In a paper published today (download PDF), Symantec researchers spelled out their analysis of the Nitro attacks and the use of Poison Ivy.
"Nitro wasn't at the level of sophistication of a Stuxnet," said Jeff Wilhelm, a senior researcher with Symantec's security response, in an interview today. "But there are similarities with other advanced threats."
Among those common traits, said Wilhelm, was the attack's narrow focus.
Poison Ivy was planted on Windows PCs whose owners fell for a dodge delivered via email, said Symantec. Those emails, which were delivered in small numbers -- sometimes to only a few people in a company -- touted meeting requests from reputable business partners, or in some cases, as updates to antivirus software or for Adobe Flash Player.
When users fell for the trick and opened the message attachment, they unknowingly installed Poison Ivy on their machines. After that, the attackers were able to issue instructions to the compromised computers, troll for higher-level passwords to gain access to servers hosting confidential information, and eventually offload the stolen content to hacker-controlled systems.
Many of the same techniques, including substantial time spent scouting targets and crafting individual emails, have characterized a number of notable attacks in the last two years, including the 2009-2010 "Aurora" campaign against Google and dozens of other Western firms, and the attacks against RSA this year.
Wilhelm declined to connect the dots between Nitro and the RSA attack, but did admit that there were similarities.
Twenty-nine of the 48 firms that were successfully attacked were in the chemical and advanced materials trade -- some of the latter with connections to military vehicles -- while the other 19 were in a variety of fields, including the defense sector.
A dozen of the targeted organizations were U.S.-based, said Symantec, while five were headquartered in the U.K. and others in Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan.
Symantec declined to comment on whether the sole Japanese firm was Mitsubishi Heavy, that country's largest defense contractor. Last month, Mitsubishi confirmed that scores of its servers had been infected with malware in August, a time right in the middle of the Nitro two-and-a-half-month run.
- Securing Mobile App Data - Comparing Containers and App Wrappers Analysts agree that Mobile Device Management (MDM) is not enough when it comes to securing app data. Although it remains a critical component...
- PCI 3.0 Compliance In this white paper, learn how PCI-DSS 3.0 effects how you deploy and maintain PCI compliant networks using CradlePoint devices.
- Mitigating Security Risks at the Networks Edge This white paper provides strategies and best practices for distributed enterprises to protect their networks against vulnerabilities, threats, and malicious attacks.
- 5 Strategies for Modern Data Protection Read the five strategies for modern data protection that will not only help solve your current data management challenges but also ensure that...
- Business-driven data protection Setting up data protection infrastructures with your organizations' core mission or business in mind is key. In this webinar, the ARCserve team will...
- On-Demand Webinar: Mind the Gap! Watch the webinar featuring Bob Janssen, CTO and Co-Founder of RES Software, to start building a solid foundation for business and IT to... All Security White Papers | Webcasts
Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!