India believed to be source of sophisticated surveillance campaigns

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   May 21, 2013

In-depth investigations find widespread worldwide snooping, Pakistan primary target.

Several reports have emerged recently covering a highly organised campaign of targeted espionage malware that has been seen in many countries around the world and stealing data from many industries. Close investigation has provided strong hints that the campaign originated in India, with Pakistan the most widely hit country, and the defence sector the biggest target.

Separate reports from several anti-malware firms have highlighted the campaign, which some have dubbed 'HangOver'. Norman got on the trail after investigating an infiltration at Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor.

Norman's researchers found evidence of the malware family in countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the US, generally penetrating defences using targeted spear-phishing attacks with spoofed documents dropping malicious code through vulnerabilities (all previously known) in Java, IE and Office.

A large and complex C&C infrastructure was uncovered, and analysis of malware binaries even suggested 'professional product management' and the use of freelance programmers for some tasks. Many features of the campaign led to the conclusion that it was Indian in origin, although there was no implication that it was state-sponsored. An introduction to Norman's findings is in a blog piece here, with a full report and in-depth documentation available here.

Another group of researchers, at ESET, released a report just a few days earlier on the same threat structure. They identified stolen digital keys used to sign some of the binaries, and provided details of how the surveillance operates, harvesting likely documents on the target system as well as using keyloggers and screen-scrapers.

They concurred that the source of the attacks appeared to be in India, and that Pakistan's military and defence industry were major targets, highlighting a number of documents used in the attack relating to local defence issues.

In a further twist, a targeted attack was spotted by researchers at F-Secure, on a Mac system belonging to an Angolan human rights campaigner, which appears to be part of the same campaign. Details on that are at F-Secure's blog here.

India has not generally been considered a major source of malware in the past, especially when compared to its near-neighbours China and Russia, which are similarly enormous in both land mass and population. These are worrying developments, especially given the long-standing political tensions with Pakistan.

Posted on 21 May 2013 by John Hawes

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