Kaspersky discovers new malware threat

Kaspersky researchers have discovered new malware that hijacks victims’ interaction with HTTPS web pages via patching the pseudo random number generator used in the process of establishing encrypted communication between the user and the website. Along with the installation of rogue digital certificates it gives the actors the ability to spy on users’ browser activity.

While the “S” in HTTPS stands for “Secure” and infers that information exchanged between a browser and a website is not accessible to third parties, there still are many ways for a skilled high-profile hacking group to interfere in this process. Reductor is a tool developed for such intrusion and was used for cyber-espionage on diplomatic entities in CIS countries, primarily by monitoring their employees’ internet traffic. What’s more, the found modules had RAT (Remote Administration Tool) functions and the capabilities of this malware were almost unlimited.

Reductor distributors had two main attack vectors, one of which consisted of having modules downloaded through COMPfun malware, previously attributed to the Turla Russian-speaking threat actor.

Another vector seemed to be trickier: apparently the attacker had the opportunity to patch clean software on the fly while it is being downloaded from legitimate websites to users’ computers. The software installers, downloaded from the warez websites which offer free downloads of pirated software. While the original installers available on those websites were not infected, they would end up on the victims’ PCs carrying malware. Kaspersky researchers concluded that replacement happens on the fly and that Reductor’s operators have some control over the target’s network channel.

Once Reductor found its way to the victim’s device, it would manipulate installed digital certificates, patching browsers’ pseudo random number generators used to encrypt the traffic coming from the user to HTTPS websites. To identify victims, whose traffic is hijacked, the criminals would add unique hardware- and software-based identifiers for each of them and mark them with certain numbers in a not-so-random-anymore numbers generator. Once the browser on the infected device is patched, the threat actor receives all information and actions performed with this browser, while the victim remains unsuspecting of anything untoward.

“We haven’t seen malware developers interacting with browser encryption in this way before” comments Kurt Baumgartner, security researcher at Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team. “It is elegant in a way and allowed attackers to stay well under the radar for a long time. The level of sophistication of the attack method suggests that the creators of Reductor malware are highly professional – which is quite common among nation-state backed actors. However we weren’t able to find solid technical clues which would attach this malware to any known threat actor. We urge all organisations dealing with sensitive data to stay alert and have regular, thorough security checks.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine