By Jaikumar Vijayan
April 04, 2007
Like many just-launched e-commerce sites in the world, this unnamed Web
site has a fairly functional, if somewhat rudimentary, home page. A list
of options at top of the home page allows visitors to transact business
in Russian or in English, offers an FAQ section, spells out the terms
and conditions for software use and provides details on payment forms
that are supported.
But contact details are, shall we say, sparse. That's because the
merchandise being hawked on the site -- no we're not going to say what
it is -- isn't exactly legitimate. The site offers malicious code that
webmasters with criminal intent can use to infect visitors to their
sites with a spyware Trojan horse.
In return for downloading the malware to their sites, Web site owners
are promised at least 50 -- about $66 (U.S.) -- every Monday, with the
potential for even more for "clean installs" of the malicious code on
end user systems. "If your traffic is good, we will change rates for you
and make payout with new rates," the site promises.
As organized gangs increasingly turn to cybercrime, sites like the one
described are coming to represent the new face of malware development
and distribution, according to security researchers. Unlike malicious
code writers of the past who tended to distribute their code to a tight
group of insiders or in underground newsgroups, the new breed is far
more professional about how it hawks, plies and prices its wares, they
"We've been seeing a growth of highly organized managed exploit
providers in non-extradition countries" over the past year or so, said
Gunter Ollmann, director of security strategies at IBM's Internet
Security Systems X-Force team. For subscriptions starting as low as $20
per month, such enterprises sell "fully managed exploit engines" that
spyware distributors and spammers can use to infiltrate systems
worldwide, he said.
The exploit code is usually encrypted and uses a range of morphing
techniques to evade detection by security software. It is designed to
use various vulnerabilities to try to infect a target system. And many
exploit providers simply wait for Microsoft Corp.'s monthly patches,
which they then reverse-engineer to develop new exploit code against the
disclosed vulnerabilities, Ollmann said.
"All you've got to do is just subscribe to them on a monthly basis,"
Ollmann said. "The going rate is about $20."
One such site was discovered by Don Jackson, a security researcher at
SecureWorks Inc., an Atlanta-based managed security service provider.
While investigating a Trojan horse named Gozi recently, Jackson
discovered that it was designed to steal data from encrypted Secure
Sockets Layer streams and send it to a server in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Trojan horse took advantage of a vulnerability in the iFrame tags of
Microsoft's Internet Explorer and had apparently been planted on several
hosted Web sites, community forums, social networking sites and sites
belonging to small businesses.
The server to which the stolen information was sent to held more than
10,000 records containing confidential information belonging to about
5,200 home users. It was maintained by a group called 76Service and
contained server-side code for stealing data from systems -- as well as
code for an administrator interface and a customer interface for data
mining, Jackson said.
The front end allowed subscribers to log in to individual accounts, view
indexed data and get results from queries based on certain fields such
as IP addresses and URLs. Each customer-generated query had a price
associated with it, Jackson said. The currency unit used on the site was
WMZ, a WebMoney unit roughly equivalent to the U.S. dollar, Jackson
said. A customer query returning three passwords for a small retailer
might cost 100 WMZ, while a query for 10 passwords for an international
bank might fetch 2,500 WMZ or more. Customers could also choose how they
wanted their search results delivered -- as compressed files in e-mails
or via FTP.
The actual Gozi code itself appears to have been purchased by 76Service
from a Russian hacking group called the HangUp Team. Such code typically
costs about $1,000 to $2,000, depending on its sophistication, Jackson
said. In addition to the original Trojan horse, the server also hosted
two ready-to-deploy variants in a separate staging area. The malicious
code included a downloader and a stored password stealer and appeared to
be have been made to order for 76Service.
Often, groups such as the HangUp Team also offer a detection monitoring
service with which they keep an eye on antivirus vendors to know exactly
when signatures are available that can detect their malware. Customers
who can afford the service are then told to start releasing variants to
evade detection. And customers willing to pay for premium service can
get hundreds of such ready-to-use variants bundled with their initial
malware code purchase.
"When the first variant is detected by many [antivirus] vendors and data
from new infections starts to slow, the person providing the executable
code is to spot that and release a new variant," Jackson said.
The actual server hardware that the 76Service used was being managed by
another entity called Russian Business Network (RBN), which provided
Simple Network Management Protocol-based management and back-up
services. "This ensured a level of service [comparable to] a hosting
provider," Jackson said.
"We are not talking about kids doing it for kicks over the weekend
anymore," said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at Finjan
Inc., a San Jose-based security vendor. "This is real cash, real money
that's involved here."
A report released last June by Finjan had already noted a trend toward
the commercialization of malicious code, Ben-Itzhak said. That report
said that cybercriminals hold "vulnerability auctions" in which they
sell information on freshly discovered software flaws to the highest
bidder. Another trend spotted was the packaging of exploits into
professional, off-the-shelf tool kits that can be used to create
malicious Web sites. One such tool kit -- Web Attacker -- cost just $300
from a Russian Web site.
"Just like any other legitimate software company, the Russian Web site
even solicited support and update service, and it provided detailed
reporting capabilities that could outline the number of people infected
per exploit and per operating system," the Finjan report noted. "The
level of investment in this particular software indicates that there is
substantial demand for such products."
Subscribe to InfoSec News