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Researchers uncover new global cyber-espionage campaign

By Lucian Constantin
February 27, 2013 01:38 PM ET

The people behind the MiniDuke cyber-espionage campaign have operated since at least April 2012, when one of the special Twitter accounts was first created, Raiu said. However, it's possible that their activity was more subtle until recently, when they decided to take advantage of the new Adobe Reader exploit to compromise as many organizations as possible before the vulnerabilities get patched, he said.

The malware used in the new attacks is unique and hasn't been seen before, so the group might have used different malware in the past, Raiu said. Judging by the wide range of targets and the global nature of the attacks, the attackers probably have a large agenda, he said.

MiniDuke victims include organizations from Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States.

In the United States, a research institute, two pro-U.S. think tanks and a health care company have been affected by this attack, Raiu said without naming any of the victims.

The attack is not as sophisticated as Flame or Stuxnet, but is high-level nevertheless, Raiu said. There are no indications regarding where the attackers might operate from or what interests they might be serving.

That said, the backdoor coding style is reminiscent of a group of malware writers known as 29A, believed to be defunct since 2008. There's a "666" signature in the code and 29A is the hexadecimal representation of 666, Raiu said.

A "666" value was also found in the malware used in the earlier attacks analyzed by FireEye, but that threat was different from MiniDuke, Raiu said. The question of whether the two attacks are related remains open.

News of this cyber-espionage campaign comes on the heels of renewed discussions about the Chinese cyber-espionage threat, particularly in the U.S., that were prompted by a recent report from security firm Mandiant. The report contains details about the years-long activity of a group of cyberattackers dubbed the Comment Crew that Mandiant believes to be a secret cyberunit of the Chinese Army. The Chinese government has dismissed the allegations, but the report was widely covered in the media.

Raiu said that none of the MiniDuke victims identified so far was from China, but declined to speculate on the significance of this fact. Last week security researchers from other companies identified targeted attacks that distributed the same PDF exploit masquerading as copies of the Mandiant report.

Those attacks installed malware that was clearly of Chinese origin, Raiu said. However, the way in which the exploit was used in those attacks was very crude and the malware was unsophisticated when compared to MiniDuke, he said.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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