BANGALORE: As the cyber world awaits Monday, when the FBI will shut down servers affected by the DNS Changer malware, a list of affected countries shows India in the third spot.
Domain Name System (DNS) is part of the internet that links up a website name (like example.com) to its numerical Internet Protocol equivalent (like 123.456.789.098).
According to the DNS Changer Working Group, as of July 4, there are 19,642 IP addresses infected in India. At the top of the table is the US with 45,619, and next is Italy with 21,831. The DNS Changer Working Group monitors DNS servers as part of efforts to undo the worldwide damage done by the malware.
The DNS Changer malware hit the headlines last year, after the FBI and Estonian police arrested many criminals who had floated a company called Rove Digital and spread viruses under various names. These viruses altered the DNS settings of computers, leading users to fraudulent websites rather than the real ones.
Under a US court order that expires on Monday, the Internet Systems Consortium had mounted an operation to clean up the servers. When the FBI shuts down the rogue servers on Monday, users whose network has been infected will not be able to log on to the internet.
Vinoo Thomas, product manager, McAfee Labs, says it is difficult to determine the exact number of infected computers in India which might go down on Monday. "If your system has been hit, then it means your IP address points to the infected server. Since these servers will be shut down on Monday, you will not be able to access internet. To set it right, you will have to contact your internet service provider, like BSNL and Airtel, to reset the IP addresses."
Is your system infected?
There is still a day to check if the system has been affected. Various cyber security firms have offered free solutions. For example, users can go to www.mcafee.com/dnscheck to check if their computer is infected. Symantec customers whose computer has been hit are being notified through their product. Users can also go to the DNS Changer Check-Up page (Detect | DCWG), maintained by the DNS Changer Working Group, to determine whether their computer has been compromised or not.
I once argued with a Chinese poster, how the US can cut off the root servers if needed to darken the cyberworld or stop cyber attacks from China, in which case China would have no access to the internet. He came up with rants without proving anything conclusive otherwise. I believe it was Nimo_Cn.
Duqu and Stuxnet raised the stakes in the cyber battles being fought in the Middle East – but now we’ve found what might be the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed. The ‘Flame’ cyber espionage worm came to the attention of our experts at Kaspersky Lab after the UN’s International Telecommunication Union came to us for help in finding an unknown piece of malware which was deleting sensitive information across the Middle East. While searching for that code – nicknamed Wiper – we discovered a new malware codenamed Worm.Win32.Flame.
Flame shares many characteristics with notorious cyber weapons Duqu and Stuxnet: while its features are different, the geography and careful targeting of attacks coupled with the usage of specific software vulnerabilities seems to put it alongside those familiar ‘super-weapons’ currently deployed in the Middle East by unknown perpetrators. Flame can easily be described as one of the most complex threats ever discovered. It’s big and incredibly sophisticated. It pretty much redefines the notion of cyberwar and cyberespionage.
For the full low-down on this advanced threat, read on…
What exactly is Flame? A worm? A backdoor? What does it do?
Flame is a sophisticated attack toolkit, which is a lot more complex than Duqu. It is a backdoor, a Trojan, and it has worm-like features, allowing it to replicate in a local network and on removable media if it is commanded so by its master.
The initial point of entry of Flame is unknown - we suspect it is deployed through targeted attacks; however, we haven’t seen the original vector of how it spreads. We have some suspicions about possible use of the MS10-033 vulnerability, but we cannot confirm this now.
Once a system is infected, Flame begins a complex set of operations, including sniffing the network traffic, taking screenshots, recording audio conversations, intercepting the keyboard, and so on. All this data is available to the operators through the link to Flame’s command-and-control servers.
Later, the operators can choose to upload further modules, which expand Flame’s functionality. There are about 20 modules in total and the purpose of most of them is still being investigated.
How sophisticated is Flame?
First of all, Flame is a huge package of modules comprising almost 20 MB in size when fully deployed. Because of this, it is an extremely difficult piece of malware to analyze. The reason why Flame is so big is because it includes many different libraries, such as for compression (zlib, libbz2, ppmd) and database manipulation (sqlite3), together with a Lua virtual machine.
Lua is a scripting (programming) language, which can very easily be extended and interfaced with C code. Many parts of Flame have high order logic written in Lua - with effective attack subroutines and libraries compiled from C++.
The effective Lua code part is rather small compared to the overall code. Our estimation of development ‘cost’ in Lua is over 3000 lines of code, which for an average developer should take about a month to create and debug.
Also, there are internally used local databases with nested SQL queries, multiple methods of encryption, various compression algorithms, usage of Windows Management Instrumentation scripting, batch scripting and more.
Running and debugging the malware is also not trivial as it’s not a conventional executable application, but several DLL files that are loaded on system boot.
Overall, we can say Flame is one of the most complex threats ever discovered.
How is this different to or more sophisticated than any other backdoor Trojan? Does it do specific things that are new?
First of all, usage of Lua in malware is uncommon. The same goes for the rather large size of this attack toolkit. Generally, modern malware is small and written in really compact programming languages, which make it easy to hide. The practice of concealment through large amounts of code is one of the specific new features in Flame.
The recording of audio data from the internal microphone is also rather new. Of course, other malware exists which can record audio, but key here is Flame’s completeness - the ability to steal data in so many different ways.
Another curious feature of Flame is its use of Bluetooth devices. When Bluetooth is available and the corresponding option is turned on in the configuration block, it collects information about discoverable devices near the infected machine. Depending on the configuration, it can also turn the infected machine into a beacon, and make it discoverable via Bluetooth and provide general information about the malware status encoded in the device information.
What are the notable info-stealing features of Flame?
Although we are still analyzing the different modules, Flame appears to be able to record audio via the microphone, if one is present. It stores recorded audio in compressed format, which it does through the use of a public-source library.
Recorded data is sent to the C&C through a covert SSL channel, on a regular schedule. We are still analyzing this; more information will be available on our website soon.
The malware has the ability to regularly take screenshots; what’s more, it takes screenshots when certain “interesting” applications are run, for instance, IM’s. Screenshots are stored in compressed format and are regularly sent to the C&C server - just like the audio recordings.
We are still analyzing this component and will post more information when it becomes available.
When was Flame created?
The creators of Flame specially changed the dates of creation of the files in order that any investigators couldn’t establish the truth re time of creation. The files are dated 1992, 1994, 1995 and so on, but it’s clear that these are false dates.
We consider that in the main the Flame project was created no earlier than in 2010, but is still undergoing active development to date. Its creators are constantly introducing changes into different modules, while continuing to use the same architecture and file names. A number of modules were either created of changed in 2011 and 2012.
According to our own data, we see use of Flame in August 2010. What’s more, based on collateral data, we can be sure that Flame was out in the wild as early as in February to March 2010. It’s possible that before then there existed earlier version, but we don’t have data to confirm this; however, the likelihood is extremely high.
Why is it called Flame? What is the origin of its name?
The Flame malware is a large attack toolkit made up of multiple modules. One of the main modules was named Flame - it’s the module responsible for attacking and infecting additional machines.
Is this a nation-state sponsored attack or is it being carried out by another group such as cyber criminals or hacktivisits?
Currently there are three known classes of players who develop malware and spyware: hacktivists, cybercriminals and nation states. Flame is not designed to steal money from bank accounts. It is also different from rather simple hack tools and malware used by the hacktivists. So by excluding cybercriminals and hacktivists, we come to conclusion that it most likely belongs to the third group. In addition, the geography of the targets (certain states are in the Middle East) and also the complexity of the threat leaves no doubt about it being a nation state that sponsored the research that went into it.
Who is responsible?
There is no information in the code or otherwise that can tie Flame to any specific nation state. So, just like with Stuxnet and Duqu, its authors remain unknown.
Why are they doing it?
To systematically collect information on the operations of certain nation states in the Middle East, including Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and so on. Here’s a map of the top 7 affected countries:
Is Flame targeted at specific organizations, with the goal of collecting specific information that could be used for future attacks? What type of data and information are the attackers looking for?
From the initial analysis, it looks like the creators of Flame are simply looking for any kind of intelligence - e-mails, documents, messages, discussions inside sensitive locations, pretty much everything. We have not seen any specific signs indicating a particular target such as the energy industry - making us believe it’s a complete attack toolkit designed for general cyber-espionage purposes.
Of course, like we have seen in the past, such highly flexible malware can be used to deploy specific attack modules, which can target SCADA devices, ICS, critical infrastructure and so on.
What industries or organizations is Flame targeting? Are they industrial control facilities/PLC/SCADA? Who are the targets and how many?
There doesn’t seem to be any visible pattern re the kind of organizations targeted by Flame. Victims range from individuals to certain state-related organizations or educational institutions. Of course, collecting information on the victims is difficult because of strict personal data collecting policies designed to protect the identity of our users.