By Robert McMillan
IDG News Service
January 09, 2008
Over the past month, a new type of malicious software has emerged, using
a decades-old technique to hide itself from anti-virus software.
The malware, called Trojan.Mebroot by Symantec, installs itself on the
first part of the computer's hard drive to be read on startup, then
makes changes to the Windows kernel, making it hard for security
software to detect it.
Criminals have been installing Trojan.Mebroot, known as an MBR (master
boot record) rootkit, since mid-December, and were able to infect nearly
5,000 users in two separate attacks, staged on Dec. 12 and Dec. 19,
according to Verisign's iDefense Intelligence Team. In order to install
the software on a victim's computer, attackers first lure them to a
compromised Web site, which then launches a variety of attacks against
the victim's computer in hopes of finding a way to run the rootkit code
on the PC.
Once installed, the malware gives attackers control over the victim's
The group behind this latest rootkit is the same one responsible for the
Torpig Trojan, and it is believed to have already installed more than
250,000 Trojan programs, iDefense said in a report on the rootkit
The interesting thing about Trojan.Mebroot is that it installs itself on
the MBR. This is the first sector of the computer's hard drive, and it
is the place the computer goes to first whenever it wants to boot up the
operating system. "Basically, if you can control the MBR, you can
control the operating system and therefore the computer it resides on,"
wrote Symantec researcher Elia Florio in a blog posting on
The criminals are using several different versions of this attack code,
some of which are not currently being detected by some anti-virus
products, iDefense said.
"At the moment the AV detection is hit and miss across the board;
however, in the last day, a number of vendors have added detection for
it already," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations with
nCircle Network Security. "As for penetration, so far many people are
showing it as having a low overall distribution. The concern is that the
group which may be preparing to distribute the rootkit is
Malicious software that infected the master boot record was common
during the MS-DOS era, but it has not been used much in attacks in
In 2005, however, researchers at eEye Digital Security gave a talk at
the Black Hat security conference, showing how a rootkit could hide
itself on the MBR. This Trojan.Mebroot software is derived from that
code, iDefense said.
Getting this kind of malicious software to work reliably is a technical
challenge, and there have generally been easier ways for the bad guys to
take over PCs in recent years, said Marc Maiffret, an independent
security researcher who was chief technology officer at eEye when the
code was first developed.
Attackers were given a hand last year, however, when researchers at NV
Labs published a proof of concept MBR rootkit.
Maiffret said that while we may soon see more of these MBR rootkits, "it
won't take long for all the anti-virus companies to react."
"It's not some new attack vector that's going to be hard to prevent," he
said. "It's just something that people haven't really paid attention
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