Flame authors order infected computers to remove all traces of the malware
Flame self-desctruct module overwrites file data to prevent forensic analysis
IDG News Service - The creators of the Flame cyber-espionage threat ordered infected computers still under their control to download and execute a component designed to remove all traces of the malware and prevent forensic analysis, security researchers from Symantec said on Wednesday.
Flame has a built-in feature called SUICIDE that can be used to uninstall the malware from infected computers. However, late last week, Flame's creators decided to distribute a different self-removal module to infected computers that connected to servers still under their control, Symantec's security response team said in a blog post.
The module is called browse32.ocx and its most recent version was created on May 9, 2012. "It is unknown why the malware authors decided not to use the SUICIDE functionality, and instead make Flamer perform explicit actions based on a new module," the Symantec researchers said.
However, even though it is similar in functionality to the SUICIDE feature -- both being able to delete a large number of files associated with the malware -- the new module goes a step further.
"It locates every [Flame] file on disk, removes it, and subsequently overwrites the disk with random characters to prevent anyone from obtaining information about the infection," the Symantec researchers said. "This component contains a routine to generate random characters to use in the overwriting operation. It tries to leave no traces of the infection behind."
Deleting a file in Windows does not remove its actual data from the physical hard disk. It only flags the hard disk sectors occupied by that file as available for the operating system to rewrite.
However, since there is no way to predict when the operating system will actually overwrite those sectors, the deleted file, or portions of it, can be recovered with special data recovery tools -- at least for a limited period of time.
According to Aleks Gostev, chief security expert with Kaspersky Lab's global research & analysis team, the overwriting of file data with meaningless characters happens before the Flame files get deleted by browse32.ocx, not after as Symantec suggested. However, the goal is the same -- eliminating all traces of the malware and making forensic analysis harder, he said via email.
Last week, Kaspersky's researchers said that they discovered Flame while investigating a series of data loss incidents in Iran that could have been caused by a piece of malware. However, no evidence that links Flame to those attacks has been found yet.
Kaspersky's researchers didn't exclude the possibility that a yet-to-be-identified Flame component was responsible for the data destruction in Iran, but if such a component exists, it's probably not browse32.ocx.
"Browse32 does not overwrite the hard disk the way Wiper [the mystery malware] did it," Gostev said. "It wipes only files related to Flame."
- The NSA blame game: Singling out RSA diverts attention from others
- Jury still out on FISA court
- Suspected China-based hackers 'Comment Crew' rises again
- Chinese hackers master the art of lying in wait
- Spy court OK'd all U.S. wiretap requests it received in 2012
- Groups denounce FBI plan to require Internet backdoors for wiretaps
- South Korea cyberattacks hold lessons for U.S.
- U.S. military networks not prepared for cyberthreats, report warns
- Return of CISPA: Cybersecurity boon or privacy threat?
- New report says cyberspying group linked to China's army
- 15 Non-Certified IT Skills Growing in Demand
- How 19 Tech Titans Target Healthcare
- Twitter Suffering From Growing Pains (and Facebook Comparisons)
- Agile Comes to Data Integration
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- Who's Spying on You? You're aware of the threats of malware to your business but what about the ever-changing ground rules? Cybercriminals today are launching attacks against...
- Pay-as-you-Grow Data Protection: IBM Tivoli's Full-featured Data Protection Suite for Small to Medium Businesses IBM Tivoli Storage Manager Suite for Unified Recovery gives small and medium businesses the opportunity to start out with only the individual solutions...
- Streamline Data Protection with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager Operations Center IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) has been an industry-standard data protection solution for two decades. But, where most competitors focus exclusively on Backup...
- Simplify and Consolidate Data Protection for Better Business Results Learn about IBM® Tivoli® Storage Manager Operations Center, which provides advanced visualization, built-in analytics and integrated workflow automation features that leapfrog traditional backup...
- Meg Whitman presents Unlocking IT with Big Data During this Web Event you will hear Meg Whitman, President and CEO, HP discuss HAVEn - the #1 Big Data platform, as well...
- The New Way to Work Knowledge Vault This Knowledge Vault focuses on how, in today's increasingly virtual world, it's more important than ever to engage deeply with employees, suppliers, partners,... All Cybercrime and Hacking White Papers | Webcasts