Macro malware on the rise again

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Nov 7, 2014

Users taught that having to enable enhanced security features is no big deal.

When I joined Virus Bulletin almost eight years ago, macro viruses were already a thing of the past, like porn diallers or viruses that did funny things to the characters on your screen: threats that were once a real problem, but that we didn't have to worry about any longer.

A few years ago, I even heard a malware researcher bemoan the fact that "kids these days" didn't even know how to analyse macro viruses. Of course, there was no reason why they should know: once Microsoft disabled the execution of VBA macros by default in all Office suites, macro malware disappeared from the scene.

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Virus Bulletin published many a macro virus analysis, for example Sarah Gordon's analysis of one of the first such viruses, Winword.Concept, in September 1995 (PDF), or Ian Whalley's look at the infamous Melissa virus in May 1999 (PDF).

Earlier this year, I wrote about an apparent return of macro viruses in targeted attacks. However, this concerned very small-scale attacks, usually against targets that had macros enabled.

Then things suddenly changed. In July, we published the paper "VBA is not dead!" from Sophos researcher Gabor Szappanos, in which he looked at the return of macro malware in recent months.

Word file with macros

Rather than depend on macros executing automatically, these new pieces of macro malware used social engineering to entice the recipient of an Office document to enable macros, thus executing the malicious code, which usually resulted in downloading the actual payload.

Since then, things have only become worse. Two recent examples of malware that spread through macros are the 'DRIDEX' banking trojan, as reported by Trend Micro, and the 'TorrentLocker' ransomware that Fox-IT wrote about. These and several other recent examples used the same basic social engineering trick.

It is easy to bemoan 'stupid' users who create the problems themselves by enabling macros - and, of course, the more people who know not to do so, the better.

Alert in Adobe Reader

However, it is quite common these days to see 'advanced features' in software disabled by default for valid security reasons. Sometimes even the printing of a document downloaded from the Internet requires such features to be enabled. It is thus entirely understandable that many users don't think twice about enabling macros.

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Martijn Grooten

twitter.png
fb.png
linkedin.png
hackernews.png
reddit.png

 

Latest posts:

VB2019 paper: DNS on fire

In a paper presented at VB2019, Cisco Talos researchers Warren Mercer and Paul Rascagneres looked at two recent attacks against DNS infrastructure: DNSpionage and Sea Turtle. Today we publish their paper and the recording of their presentation.

German Dridex spam campaign is unfashionably large

VB has analysed a malicious spam campaign targeting German-speaking users with obfuscated Excel malware that would likely download Dridex but that mostly stood out through its size.

Paper: Dexofuzzy: Android malware similarity clustering method using opcode sequence

We publish a paper by researchers from ESTsecurity in South Korea, who describe a fuzzy hashing algorithm for clustering Android malware datasets.

Emotet continues to bypass many email security products

Having returned from a summer hiatus, Emotet is back targeting inboxes and, as seen in the VBSpam test lab, doing a better job than most other malicious campaigns at bypassing email security products.

VB2019 paper: We need to talk - opening a discussion about ethics in infosec

Those working in the field of infosec are often faced with ethical dilemmas that are impossible to avoid. Today, we publish a VB2019 paper by Kaspersky researcher Ivan Kwiatkowski looking at ethics in infosec as well as the recording of Ivan's…

We have placed cookies on your device in order to improve the functionality of this site, as outlined in our cookies policy. However, you may delete and block all cookies from this site and your use of the site will be unaffected. By continuing to browse this site, you are agreeing to Virus Bulletin's use of data as outlined in our privacy policy.