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Large Kovter digitally-signed malvertising campaign and MSRT cleanup release

May 10th, 2016 No comments

Kovter is a malware family that is well known for being tricky to detect and remove because of its file-less design after infection. Users from United States are nearly exclusively being targeted, and infected PCs are used to perform click-fraud and install additional malware on your machine.

Starting April 21, 2016, we observed a large Kovter malware attack where in just a week and a half we protected over 350,000 PCs from this threat. Interestingly, for this campaign the attackers managed to acquire trusted SSL digital certificates to secure an HTTPS SSL connection and their own code signing certificate to sign the downloaded malware with.

Kovter carried out this attack campaign using a technique called malvertising, masquerading as a fake Adobe Flash update. In this blog we will share some research into the structure of their malvertising attack, how our MSRT release will be cleaning it up, and the technical details of how Kovter installs and attempts to remain persistent as a file-less malware after it infects a PC.

Kovter’s digitally signed malvertising campaign

Malvertising is a technique used by bad actors to attack your PC, where they buy advertisement space with ad networks, ad exchanges, and ad publishers. These ads then appear on many websites who use the same advertisement network, and attacks some of the users as they visit the websites.

Unlike typical advertisements that require a user click, malvertising attacks often attack as soon as you visit a website that displays them.

Using this technique, we’ve seen malicious attackers use varied techniques such as:

  • Displaying repeated message boxes claiming your PC is infected and encouraging you to call a support phone number for help. These are malicious and they have not detected a problem on your PC.
  • Attempting to lock your browser and demanding payment as ransomware. You can close your browser or restart your computer to escape. This type of ransomware hasn’t really locked your PC.
  • Loading an exploit kit to attack your browser or browser plugin.
  • Claiming your browser, Adobe Flash Player, or Java is out of date and in need of an update. Often they will claim the update is required to view the website content or is needed for security reasons. Keeping these applications up-to-date is really important to keep your PC safe and secure from the latest vulnerabilities. However, you should never trust a website claiming to detect security problems on your PC. Instead, let these apps update if they request to outside of your browser or search for the official websites to install the missing components.

The recent Kovter malvertising attack falls into this last category, using a social engineering attack that states that your Adobe Flash is out of date and needs to be updated for security reasons.

Figure 1 below illustrates the Kovter infection chain used in this attack. Users visiting effected websites are redirected to fake websites impersonating the Adobe Flash hallmark download page claiming your Flash Player is out of date, and Trojan:Win32/Kovter is automatically downloaded pretending to be “FlashPlayer.exe”.

Kovter infection chain

Figure 1 – Kovter’s fake Adobe update malvertising infection chain

 

For this most recent campaign, we saw Kovter perpetrators redirecting to the following domains:

  • aefoopennypinchingpolly.com
  • ahcakmbafocus.org
  • ahxuluthscsa.org
  • caivelitemind.com
  • ierietelio.org
  • paiyafototips.com
  • rielikumpara.org
  • siipuneedledoctor.com
  • ziejaweleda.org

The domains from this campaign and previous campaigns commonly use the same domain registration information, and can be identified by:

Admin Email: monty.ratliff@yandex.com

As soon as the malicious advertisement is displayed, users are redirected to the Kovter social engineering page hosted using HTTPS according to the following pattern:

https://<domain>/<random numbers>/<random hex>.html

For example:

hxxps://ahxuluthscsa.org/4792924404046/89597dd177df3daa78f184fe87c4386c.html

By using HTTPS, your browser displays a ‘secure’ lock symbol – incorrectly adding to the user trust that the website is safe while at the same time preventing most network intrusion protection systems from protecting the user. Endpoint antimalware solutions, such as Windows Defender, still protect the user however. We were unable to confirm due to the servers being taken down, but reports online suggest trial COMODO SSL certificates were being used to secure these connections for the Kovter campaigns in the past.

When you visit the website, it automatically downloads Kovter as “FlashPlayer.exe”. It downloads from the same domains using a pattern such as:

hxxps://ahxuluthscsa.org/1092920552392/1092920552392/1461879398769944/FlashPlayer.exe

Some example FlashPlayer.exe downloaded files for reference are as follows:

Sha1 Md5
eafe025671e6264f603868699126d4636f6636c7
c26b064b826f4c1aa6711b7698c58fc0
0686c48fd59a899dfa9cbe181f8c52cbe8de90f0
e0a31d6b58017428dd8c907b14ea334e
62690c0a5a9946f91855a476b7d92447e299c89a
18ccf307730767c4620ae960555b9237
7a678fa58e310749362a432db9ff82aebfb6de62
f6406681e0652e33562d013a8c5329b9
872d157c9c844636dda2f33be83540354e04f709
42b1b775945a4f21f6105df8e9c698c2
37a8ad4a51b6f7b418c17abd8de9fc089a23125d
3767f655a462c4bf13ae83c5f7656af4
cfebfe6d4065dd14493abeb0ae6508a6d874d809
a14a38ebe3856766d55c1af35fb1681f
c48b21c854d6743c9ebe919bf1271cade9613890
321f9b3717655e1886305f4ca01129ad
4df10be4b12f3c7501184097abee681a1045f2ed
0966f977c6d319e838be9b2ceb689fbe
457f0f7fe85fb97841d748af04166f2a3e752efe
7214015e37750f3ee65d5054a5d1ff8a

 

These downloaded Kovter files were digitally signed by a trusted COMODO certificate under the company name “Itgms Ltd” as follows:

Comodo certificateComodo certificate

 

We notified COMODO of the code signing abuse by Kovter and they have since revoked this certificate. We suspect that the actors behind Kovter code-signed their fake Adobe Flash installer to increase the number of users who trust the downloaded file and decide to run it.

The sheer volume of PCs encountering Kovter during this attack, along with the attackers appearing to have been directly issued their own digital certificates is a cause for concern. Lucky for us, the digital signing actually worked to help us better identify files that are Kovter to better protect you – since we are able to uniquely identify and remove all files signed by this certificate. We will be continuing to monitor Kovter to keep you protected.

 

MSRT coverage

As part of our ongoing effort to provide better malware protection, the May release of the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) includes detections for Kovter and Locky. Locky is a family of ransomware which uses infected Microsoft Office files to download the ransomware onto your PC

By adding Kovter and Locky detections to MSRT we hope to have a bigger impact by reaching more affected machines and helping remove these threats. However, as with all threats, prevention is the best protection.

 

Kovter Installation

On top of the recent Kovter Adobe Flash malvertising attack, we have also seen this trojan arrive as an attachment to spam emails. We have seen this malware being downloaded by TrojanDownloader:JS/Nemucod, for example:

  • Sha1: 36e81f09d2e1f9440433b080b056d3437a99a8e1
  • Md5: 74dccbc97e6bffbf05ee269adeaac7f8

When Kovter is installed, the malware drops its main payload as data in a registry key (HKCUsoftware<random_chars> or HKLMsoftware<random_chars>). For example, we have seen it drop the payload into the following registry keys:

  • hklmsoftwareoziyns8
  • hklmsoftware2pxhqtn
  • hkcusoftwarempcjbe00f
  • hkcusoftwarefxzozieg

Kovter then installs JavaScript as a run key registry value using paths that automatically run on startup such as:

  • hklmsoftwaremicrosoftwindowscurrentversionrun
  • hklmsoftwaremicrosoftwindowscurrentversionpoliciesexplorerrun
  • hklmsoftwarewow6432nodemicrosoftwindowscurrentversionrun
  • hklmsoftwarewow6432nodemicrosoftwindowscurrentversionpoliciesexplorerrun
  • hkcusoftwaremicrosoftwindowscurrentversionrun
  • hkcusoftwareclasses<random_chars>shellopencommand

The dropped JavaScript registry usually has the format: “mshta javascript: <malicious Kovter JavaScript>”. When executed at startup, this JavaScript loads the Kovter payload data registry key data into memory and execute it.

One executing in memory, the malware also injects itself into legitimate processes including:

  • regsvr32.exe
  • svchost.exe
  • iexplorer.exe
  • explorer.exe

After installation, the malware will remove the original installer from the disk leaving only registry keys that contain the malware.

 

Payload

Lowers Internet security settings

It modifies the following registry entries to lower your Internet security settings:

  • In subkey: HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionInternet SettingsZones3 Sets value: “1400” With data: “0
  • In subkey: HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionInternet SettingsZones1 Sets value: “1400” With data: “0

Sends your personal information to a remote server

We have seen this malware send information about your PC to the attacker, including:

  • Antivirus software you are using
  • Date and time zone
  • GUID
  • Language
  • Operating system

It can also detect some specific tools you use in your PC and sends that information back to the attacker:

  • JoeBox
  • QEmuVirtualPC
  • Sandboxie
  • SunbeltSandboxie
  • VirtualBox
  • VirtualPC
  • VMWare
  • Wireshark

Click-fraud

This threat can silently visit websites without your consent to perform click-fraud by clicking on advertisements. It does so by running several instances of Internet Explorer in the background.

Download updates or other malware

This threat can download and run files. Kovter uses this capability to update itself to a new version. This update capability has been used recently to install other malware such as:

 

Demographics

Kovter prevalence or encounters chart

Figure 2 – Kovter’s prevalence for the past two months shows a spike in the month of April

 

Kovter's geographic distribution

Figure 3 – Kovter’s geographic distribution shows that majority of the affected machines are in the United States

 

Mitigation and prevention

To help stay protected from Kovter, Locky and other threats, use an up-to-date Windows Defender for Windows 10 as your antimalware scanner, and ensure that MAPS has been enabled.

Though trojans have been a permanent fixture in the malware ecosystem, there’s still something that you or your administrators can proactively do:

 

Geoff McDonald and Duc Nguyen

MMPC

Gamarue, Nemucod, and JavaScript

May 9th, 2016 No comments

JavaScript is now being used largely to download malware because it’s easy to obfuscate the code and it has a small size. Most recently, one of the most predominant JavaScript malware that has been spreading other malware is Nemucod.

This JavaScript trojan downloads additional malware (such as Win32/Tescrypt and Win32/Crowti – two pervasive ransomware trojans that have been doing the rounds for a few years[1] – and Win32/Fareit) and installs it on a victim’s system through spam email.

Recently, however, we’ve seen another version of Nemucod distributing Gamarue malware to users.

Gamarue, also known as “Andromeda bot”, has been known to arrive through exploit kits, other executable malware downloaders (including Win32/Dofoil and Win32/Beebone), removable drives, and through that old stand-by: spam campaigns.

The shift to a JavaScript-obfuscated downloader might be an attempt by the malware authors to evade the increasing detection capabilities and sophistication in antimalware products.

A quick look into the obfuscated JavaScript code shows us that, aside from the encrypted strings, it uses variables with random names to hide its real code.

Sample of an obfuscated JavaScript code

Figure 1: Obfuscated code

 

The decrypted code is shown in the following image:

Sample of a decrypted JavaScript previously-obfuscated code

Figure 2: De-obfuscated code

 

Nemucod is known to have different hashes for each variant. For this one particular hash, since the detection was written in early April, 2016, it reached in total of 982 distinct machines with 4,192 reports – which indicates the number of Gamarue installations that could have occurred if it was not detected.

Nemucod detection rate

Figure 3:  Nemucod detection rate

 

Gamarue has been observed stealing vital information from your PC. It can also accept commands from a command and control (C&C) server. Depending on the commands received, a malicious hacker can perform various actions on the machine. See our family description of Win32/Gamarue for more information.

 

 

Nemucod impact

Since the start of 2016, Nemucod has risen in prevalence.

Rising Nemucod prevalence trend

Figure 4:  Rising Nemucod prevalence trend shows that it peaked on April

 

For the top 10 countries for Nemucod detections, the US takes a third, followed by Italy and Japan. The spread of infections is quite widespread across the globe.

Nemucod geoloc distribution from January to April 2016

Figure 5: Majority of the Nemucod infections are seen in the United States

Overall, however, it still remains relatively low, especially when compared to Gamarue.

 

Gamarue impact

Unlike Nemucod, Gamarue detections started high and have remained high since late last year. Overall, numbers have dropped a small amount since the start of 2016. Interestingly, there are large troughs during every weekend, with a return to higher numbers on Monday. This can indicate that Gamarue is especially pervasive either in enterprises, or in spam email campaigns.

Gamarue prevalence chart shows steady pattern from January to April 2016

Figure 6: The Gamarue infection trend shows a steady pattern

 

For Gamarue, the top 10 countries see distribution largely through India, Asia, Mexico, and Pakistan.

Gamarue geoloc distribution from January to April 2016

Figure 7: Majority of the Gamarue infection hits third world countries

 

Mitigation and prevention

To help stay protected from Nemucod, Gamarue, and other threats, use Windows Defender for Windows 10, or other up-to-date real-time product as your antimalware scanner.

Use advanced threat and cloud protection

You can boost your protection by using Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection and enabling Microsoft Active Protection Service (MAPS).

Office 365 helps by blocking dangerous email threats; see Overview of Advanced Threat Protection in Exchange: new tools to stop unknown attacks, for details.

MAPS uses cloud protection to help guard against the latest malware threats. You should check if MAPS is enabled on your PC.

Some additional preventive measures that you or your administrators can proactively do:

 

———————————————————————–

[1] We’ve published a number of blogs about Crowti, including:

It was also featured in the July 2015 version of the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT):

 

Donna Sibangan

MMPC

 

 

MSRT April release features Bedep detection

As part of our ongoing effort to provide better malware protection, the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) release this April will include detections for:

In this blog, we’ll focus on the Bedep family of trojans.

 

The bothersome Bedep

Win32/Bedep was first detected in November 25, 2014 as a malware family made up of DLLs which has been distributed by Angler Exploit Kit. Microsoft detects Angler as:

JS/Axpergle and HTML/Axpergle have been known to carry and drop Bedep around by redirecting unsuspecting users to compromised websites.

Bedep is bothersome not only because it is carried around by an exploit kit, but because it also connects to a remote server to do the nasty:

All of the above malware families have these in common: they steal your personal information and send them to the hacker, watch what you do online, drops other malware onto your PC, and update them too.

  • Collect information about your PC to send it off to the malware perpetrator
  • Update the downloaded malware

The good thing is, Windows Defender detects and removes Bedep and its variants.

This threat has been prevalent in North America, and various parts of Latin America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

BedepGeoDist3

Figure 1: The map shows Win32/Bedep’s prevalence in North America, Latin America, Europe, and South East Asia in the last six months.

 

BedepPie 

Figure 2: The pie chart shows the Bedep distribution among the top 10 countries for the past six months

 

The exploit shellcode sometimes loads Bedep directly in the memory from the Angler Exploit Kit, without being written to disk. However, it gets written to disk at other times.

It can either be installed as 32bit DLL (Backdoor:Win32/Bedep.A) or 64bit DLL (Backdoor:Win64/Bedep.A), depending on the affected Windows OS version.

This threat is initially loaded by shellcode running in an exploited browser process (for example, iexplore.exe). Then, the threat downloads a copy of itself and injects that into explorer.exe.

We have observed that the first exploit is not enough. The attacker needs more exploits to bypass the OS or browser’s layered defenses. As a precaution, you should always be careful on clicking the User Account Control (UAC) prompts.

We’ve also seen that Bedep can drop itself as %ProgramData%<{CLSID}><filename>.dll

Example path and file names: C:ProgramData{9A88E103-A20A-4EA5-8636-C73B709A5BF8}acledit.dll.

It then creates the following registry entries:

In subkey: HKEY_CURRENT_USERCLSID%Random CLSID%InprocServer32

Example: HKEY_CURRENT_USERCLSID{F6BF8414-962C-40FE-90F1-B80A7E72DB9A}InprocServer32

Sets value: “ThreadingModel

With data: “Apartment

Sets value: “”

With data: %Bedep Filename%

Example: “C:ProgramData{9A88E103-A20A-4EA5-8636-C73B709A5BF8}acledit.dll

In subkey: HKEY_CURRENT_USERDriveShellExFolderExtensions%Random CLSID%

Example: HKEY_CURRENT_USERDriveShellExFolderExtensions{F6BF8414-962C-40FE-90F1-B80A7E72DB9A}

Sets value: “DriveMask

With data: dword:ffffffff

 

For details about various Bedep variants, see the following malware encyclopedia entries:

 

Mitigation and prevention

To help stay protected from Bedep and other threats, use an up-to-date Windows Defender for Windows 10 as your antimalware scanner, and ensure that MAPS has been enabled.

Though trojans have been a permanent fixture in the malware ecosystem, there’s still something that you or your administrators can proactively do:

 

Jonathan San Jose

MMPC

MSRT April release features Bedep detection

As part of our ongoing effort to provide better malware protection, the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) release this April will include detections for:

In this blog, we’ll focus on the Bedep family of trojans.

 

The bothersome Bedep

Win32/Bedep was first detected in November 25, 2014 as a malware family made up of DLLs which has been distributed by Angler Exploit Kit. Microsoft detects Angler as:

JS/Axpergle and HTML/Axpergle have been known to carry and drop Bedep around by redirecting unsuspecting users to compromised websites.

Bedep is bothersome not only because it is carried around by an exploit kit, but because it also connects to a remote server to do the nasty:

All of the above malware families have these in common: they steal your personal information and send them to the hacker, watch what you do online, drops other malware onto your PC, and update them too.

  • Collect information about your PC to send it off to the malware perpetrator
  • Update the downloaded malware

The good thing is, Windows Defender detects and removes Bedep and its variants.

This threat has been prevalent in North America, and various parts of Latin America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

BedepGeoDist3

Figure 1: The map shows Win32/Bedep’s prevalence in North America, Latin America, Europe, and South East Asia in the last six months.

 

BedepPie 

Figure 2: The pie chart shows the Bedep distribution among the top 10 countries for the past six months

 

The exploit shellcode sometimes loads Bedep directly in the memory from the Angler Exploit Kit, without being written to disk. However, it gets written to disk at other times.

It can either be installed as 32bit DLL (Backdoor:Win32/Bedep.A) or 64bit DLL (Backdoor:Win64/Bedep.A), depending on the affected Windows OS version.

This threat is initially loaded by shellcode running in an exploited browser process (for example, iexplore.exe). Then, the threat downloads a copy of itself and injects that into explorer.exe.

We have observed that the first exploit is not enough. The attacker needs more exploits to bypass the OS or browser’s layered defenses. As a precaution, you should always be careful on clicking the User Account Control (UAC) prompts.

We’ve also seen that Bedep can drop itself as %ProgramData%<{CLSID}><filename>.dll

Example path and file names: C:ProgramData{9A88E103-A20A-4EA5-8636-C73B709A5BF8}acledit.dll.

It then creates the following registry entries:

In subkey: HKEY_CURRENT_USERCLSID%Random CLSID%InprocServer32

Example: HKEY_CURRENT_USERCLSID{F6BF8414-962C-40FE-90F1-B80A7E72DB9A}InprocServer32

Sets value: “ThreadingModel

With data: “Apartment

Sets value: “”

With data: %Bedep Filename%

Example: “C:ProgramData{9A88E103-A20A-4EA5-8636-C73B709A5BF8}acledit.dll

In subkey: HKEY_CURRENT_USERDriveShellExFolderExtensions%Random CLSID%

Example: HKEY_CURRENT_USERDriveShellExFolderExtensions{F6BF8414-962C-40FE-90F1-B80A7E72DB9A}

Sets value: “DriveMask

With data: dword:ffffffff

 

For details about various Bedep variants, see the following malware encyclopedia entries:

 

Mitigation and prevention

To help stay protected from Bedep and other threats, use an up-to-date Windows Defender for Windows 10 as your antimalware scanner, and ensure that MAPS has been enabled.

Though trojans have been a permanent fixture in the malware ecosystem, there’s still something that you or your administrators can proactively do:

 

Jonathan San Jose

MMPC

Locky malware, lucky to avoid it

February 24th, 2016 No comments

You may have seen reports of the Locky malware circulating the web; we think this is a good time to discuss its distribution methods, and reiterate some best-practice methods that will help prevent infection.

We’ve seen Locky being distributed by spam email, not in itself a unique distribution method, but this means that spreading is broad and not isolated to any particular region. This ransomware knows no borders, and we’ve seen high infection rates across the world.
The Locky email attachment usually arrives as a Word document, but could also be an Excel document, that appears to be an invoice. We’ve also seen the following downloaders distribute Ransom:Win32/Locky.A:

If you open this file and allow the macro to run, the malware is downloaded and runs on your PC, encrypting your files. A ransom message is then displayed demanding payment in order to unlock your encrypted files. Note that once your files are encrypted, the only guaranteed way to restore them is from backup. Microsoft does not recommend you pay the ransom; there is no guarantee that this will give you access to your files.

While Microsoft detects and removes Locky, we recommend you disable macros to help prevent this and other macro-downloaded threats from infecting your PC, and then only enable macros that you trust, on a case-by-case basis. To help keep your enterprise secure, consider using a trusted location for files in your enterprise, then you can store documents that require macros there.  You can also use our cloud protection services to help boost your protection; this, and other advice on how to help keep your PC protected are outlined below.

 

Disable all except digitally signed macros in Microsoft Word

To help prevent malicious files from running macros that might download malware automatically, we recommend you change your settings to disable all except digitally signed macros.

To do this:

1. Open a Microsoft Word document.
2. Click the File tab.
3. Click Options.
4. In the Trust Center, click Trust Center Settings.

Trust Center settings

5. Select Disable all macros except digitally signed macros.

Macro settings in Trust Center

6. Click OK.

 

Block macros from running in Office files from the Internet in your enterprise

Office 16 provides a Group Policy setting that enables you to block macros from running in Word, Excel and PowerPoint files from the Internet. Read about how to block macros from running in Office 16 files from the Internet.

 

Only enable trusted content

If you have disabled macros, when you open a file that has macros you’ll see a message bar similar to the following:

Enable macro message

Only click Enable Content if you trust the file, that is, you know where it’s from and are certain that running the macro is harmless.

 

Use advanced threat and cloud protection

You can boost your protection by using Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection and also enabling Microsoft Active Protection Service (MAPS).

Office 365 helps by blocking dangerous email threats; see the Overview of Advanced Threat Protection in Exchange: new tools to stop unknown attacks, for details.

MAPS uses cloud protection to help guard against the latest malware threats. You should check if MAPS is enabled on your PC.

 

Help prevent malware infections on your PC

There are a number of other things you can do to help prevent malware infections, for example:

 

So to wrap this up: this ransomware is bad, but infection is preventable! Microsoft detects and removes this threat, but by ensuring that you only run known, trusted macros, you’ll help prevent a Locky infection – and any other malware that relies on malicious macros. Generally, a good approach is to only allow digitally signed macros that you trust to run on any of your documents.

Stay safe, from all of us at the MMPC.

-Jasmine Sesso, MMPC

Social engineering tricks open the door to macro-malware attacks – how can we close it?

April 28th, 2015 No comments

The macro malware-laden documents that target email users through email spam are intentionally crafted to pique any person's curiosity.  With subjects that include sales invoices, federal tax payments, courier notifications, resumes, and donation confirmations, users can be easily tricked to read the email and open the attachment without thinking twice.

The user opens the document, enables the macro, thinking that the document needs it to function properly – unknowingly enabling the macro malware to run.

Just when you think macro malware is a thing of the past, over the past few months, we have seen an increasing macro downloader trend that affects nearly 501,240 unique machines worldwide.

Increasing trend of macro downloaders from April 2014 to 2015

 Figure 1: Increasing trend of macro downloaders from April 2014 to 2015

We have seen majority of the macro-malware attacks in the United States and United Kingdom.

Macro downloaders’ prevalence in affected countries

Figure 2: Macro downloaders’ prevalence in affected countries

 

Macro malware distribution heat map

Figure 3: Macro malware distribution heat map

Macro malware infection chain

As stated in the previous macro blog, macro downloaders serve as the gateway for other nasty malware to get in. The following diagram shows how a typical macro downloader gets into the system and deliver its payload.

Macro downloader infection chain

Figure 4: Macro downloader infection chain

The macro malware gets into your PC as a spam email attachment. The spam email recipient then falls for a social engineering technique, opens the attachment, thereby enabling the macro inside the document.

We have identified some of these macro downloader threats, but not limited to:

When a malicious macro code runs, it either downloads its final payload, or it downloads another payload courier in the form of a binary downloader.

We have observed the following final payload, but is not limited to:

We have also observed the following binary downloaders to be related to these macros, but not limited to:

After the macro malware is downloaded, the job is pretty much done. The torch is passed to either the final payload or the binary downloader.

We have observed the following threats being downloaded by the binary downloaders, but not limited to:

 

Prevention: How do you close that door?

If you know that social engineering tricks through spam emails open the door to macro malware attacks, what can you do to help protect your enterprise software security infrastructure in closing that door?

Be careful on enabling macros

Macro threats, as payload couriers, seem to gain popularity as an effective infection vector. But unlike exploit kits, these macro threats require user consent to run. To avoid running into trouble because of these macro threats, see Before you enable those macros, for details on prevention.

You can also read more about the macro configuration options to understand the scenarios when you can enable or disable them. See Microsoft Project – how to control Macro Settings using registry keys for details.

Aside from that, be aware of the dangers in opening suspicious emails. That includes not opening email attachments or links from untrusted sources.

If you are an enterprise software security administrator, what can you do?

Most, if not all of the macro malware received are in .doc file format (D0 CF) which are seen in Microsoft Office 2007 and older versions.

If you are in charge of looking after your enterprise software security infrastructure, you can:

  • Update your Microsoft security software. Microsoft detects this threat and encourages everyone to always run on the latest software version for protection.
  • Ensure that your Trust Center settings are configured not to load older Office versions:
    1. Go to Word Options, and select Trust Center. Click Trust Center Settings.

      Trust Center settings

                                                                  

    2. In the Trust Center dialog box, select File Block Settings. Then, select the Word versions that you need to block. 

Trust Center file block settings

Doing so blocks older Office versions from opening.

You can check if MAPS feature is enabled in your Microsoft security product by selecting the Settings tab and then MAPS.

System Center Endpoint Protection MAPS settings

MMPC

Social engineering tricks open the door to macro-malware attacks – how can we close it?

April 28th, 2015 No comments

The macro malware-laden documents that target email users through email spam are intentionally crafted to pique any person's curiosity.  With subjects that include sales invoices, federal tax payments, courier notifications, resumes, and donation confirmations, users can be easily tricked to read the email and open the attachment without thinking twice.

The user opens the document, enables the macro, thinking that the document needs it to function properly – unknowingly enabling the macro malware to run.

Just when you think macro malware is a thing of the past, over the past few months, we have seen an increasing macro downloader trend that affects nearly 501,240 unique machines worldwide.

Increasing trend of macro downloaders from April 2014 to 2015

 Figure 1: Increasing trend of macro downloaders from April 2014 to 2015

We have seen majority of the macro-malware attacks in the United States and United Kingdom.

Macro downloaders’ prevalence in affected countries

Figure 2: Macro downloaders’ prevalence in affected countries

 

Macro malware distribution heat map

Figure 3: Macro malware distribution heat map

Macro malware infection chain

As stated in the previous macro blog, macro downloaders serve as the gateway for other nasty malware to get in. The following diagram shows how a typical macro downloader gets into the system and deliver its payload.

Macro downloader infection chain

Figure 4: Macro downloader infection chain

The macro malware gets into your PC as a spam email attachment. The spam email recipient then falls for a social engineering technique, opens the attachment, thereby enabling the macro inside the document.

We have identified some of these macro downloader threats, but not limited to:

When a malicious macro code runs, it either downloads its final payload, or it downloads another payload courier in the form of a binary downloader.

We have observed the following final payload, but is not limited to:

We have also observed the following binary downloaders to be related to these macros, but not limited to:

After the macro malware is downloaded, the job is pretty much done. The torch is passed to either the final payload or the binary downloader.

We have observed the following threats being downloaded by the binary downloaders, but not limited to:

 

Prevention: How do you close that door?

If you know that social engineering tricks through spam emails open the door to macro malware attacks, what can you do to help protect your enterprise software security infrastructure in closing that door?

Be careful on enabling macros

Macro threats, as payload couriers, seem to gain popularity as an effective infection vector. But unlike exploit kits, these macro threats require user consent to run. To avoid running into trouble because of these macro threats, see Before you enable those macros, for details on prevention.

You can also read more about the macro configuration options to understand the scenarios when you can enable or disable them. See Microsoft Project – how to control Macro Settings using registry keys for details.

Aside from that, be aware of the dangers in opening suspicious emails. That includes not opening email attachments or links from untrusted sources.

If you are an enterprise software security administrator, what can you do?

Most, if not all of the macro malware received are in .doc file format (D0 CF) which are seen in Microsoft Office 2007 and older versions.

If you are in charge of looking after your enterprise software security infrastructure, you can:

  • Update your Microsoft security software. Microsoft detects this threat and encourages everyone to always run on the latest software version for protection.
  • Ensure that your Trust Center settings are configured not to load older Office versions:
    1. Go to Word Options, and select Trust Center. Click Trust Center Settings.

      Trust Center settings

                                                                  

    2. In the Trust Center dialog box, select File Block Settings. Then, select the Word versions that you need to block. 

Trust Center file block settings

Doing so blocks older Office versions from opening.

You can check if MAPS feature is enabled in your Microsoft security product by selecting the Settings tab and then MAPS.

System Center Endpoint Protection MAPS settings

MMPC

MAPS in the cloud: How can it help your enterprise?

January 21st, 2015 No comments

Malware can easily send a huge enterprise infrastructure into a tailspin. However, you can get greater protection from malware by using services in the cloud.  

Yes, there’s an opportunity to get real-time results from suspicious malware triggers where your system can:

  1. Consult the cloud upon detecting suspicious malware behaviors.
  2. Respond by blocking malware based on derived logic from the account ecosystem data, and local signals from the client.

How? Through the Microsoft Active Protection Service (MAPS). 

What is MAPS?

The Microsoft Active Protection Service is the cloud service that enables:

  • Clients to report key telemetry events and suspicious malware queries to the cloud
  • Cloud to provide real-time blocking responses back to the client

The MAPS service is available for all Microsoft's antivirus products and services, including:

  • Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Protection
  • Microsoft Security Essentials
  • System Center Endpoint Protection
  • Windows Defender on Windows 8 and later versions

What can MAPS do for your enterprise software security?

Enabling MAPS in your system gives you:

  • Greater malware protection through cloud-delivered malware-blocking decisions

Enable MAPS to trigger cloud calls for suspicious events. Doing so helps ensure that the machine uses the latest malware information available from the Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC) research team, back-end big data, and machine learning logic.

  • Aggregated protection telemetry

    Leverage the latest ecosystem-wide detection techniques offered through the cloud. Microsoft aggregates protection telemetry from over one billion clients, and cross-references them with numerous signals.

MMPC threat intelligence leverages algorithms to construct and manage a view of threats in the ecosystem. When the endpoint product encounters suspicious activities, it can consult the cloud for real-time analysis before acting on it.

The vast data and computing resources available in the cloud allows the fast detection of polymorphic and emerging threats and the application of advanced protection techniques.

At a high level, here's what the MAPS protection looks like:

How the MAPS cloud protection and telemetry works from the endpoint and back

Figure 1: How the cloud protection and telemetry works from the endpoint and back.

Client machines selectively send telemetry in real-time (for detection), or periodically (for health checks) to the Microsoft Malware Protection Center’s (MMPC) cloud service which includes:

  • Threat telemetry –  to identify the threats, threat-related resources, and remediation results
  • Suspicious behavior – to collect samples, determine what to monitor and remediate
  • Heartbeat – to check the system's pulse to know if the antivirus application is still running, and if it has the updated version

The MMPC cloud service responds to client telemetry with: 

  • Cloud actions – which include context and a set of instructions from the cloud on how to handle a potential threat (for example, block it).
  • Cloud false positive mitigation response – to suppress false positive malware detections

The data gathered is treated with confidentiality. See the Microsoft System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection Privacy Statement for details. To help protect your privacy, reports are sent to Microsoft over an encrypted connection. Relevant data is analyzed

 

What the data shows

Figure 2: Percentage of protection MAPS can contribute over a six-month period

Figure 2: Percentage of protection MAPS can contribute over a six-month period

If we take the System Center Endpoint Protection data as an example, you'll see how MAPS is contributing 10% of protection to enterprise users on SCEP systems.

Imagine living without it – there'll be 10% more machines infected, and 10% more chance of intruders.

 

Prerequisites 
Both Basic membership and Advanced membership enable cloud protection. See the Microsoft Active Protection Service (MAPS) section of the Microsoft System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection Privacy Statement for details.

By default, MAPS Basic is enabled in all of Microsoft’s new antimalware products. For enterprise customers, you have to enable it to get cloud protection from new threats that are coming in.

With the Advanced membership, you can get more information about the malware and/or suspicious behaviour. Such information can give your enterprise infrastructure better protection.

To get your system ready for MAPS, see the Introduction to Endpoint Protection in Configuration Manager.   

 

So, what can you do to protect your enterprise? 

Keep MAPS enabled on your system.  

Join the Microsoft Active Protection Service Community.

To check if MAPS is enabled in your Microsoft security product, select Settings and then select MAPS:

With the MAPS option enabled, Microsoft anti-malware security product can take full advantage of Microsoft's cloud protection service

Figure 3: With the MAPS option enabled, Microsoft anti-malware security product can take full advantage of Microsoft's cloud protection service

 

MMPC

MAPS in the cloud: How can it help your enterprise?

January 21st, 2015 No comments

Malware can easily send a huge enterprise infrastructure into a tailspin. However, you can get greater protection from malware by using services in the cloud.  

Yes, there’s an opportunity to get real-time results from suspicious malware triggers where your system can:

  1. Consult the cloud upon detecting suspicious malware behaviors.
  2. Respond by blocking malware based on derived logic from the account ecosystem data, and local signals from the client.

How? Through the Microsoft Active Protection Service (MAPS). 

What is MAPS?

The Microsoft Active Protection Service is the cloud service that enables:

  • Clients to report key telemetry events and suspicious malware queries to the cloud
  • Cloud to provide real-time blocking responses back to the client

The MAPS service is available for all Microsoft's antivirus products and services, including:

  • Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Protection
  • Microsoft Security Essentials
  • System Center Endpoint Protection
  • Windows Defender on Windows 8 and later versions

What can MAPS do for your enterprise software security?

Enabling MAPS in your system gives you:

  • Greater malware protection through cloud-delivered malware-blocking decisions

Enable MAPS to trigger cloud calls for suspicious events. Doing so helps ensure that the machine uses the latest malware information available from the Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC) research team, back-end big data, and machine learning logic.

  • Aggregated protection telemetry

    Leverage the latest ecosystem-wide detection techniques offered through the cloud. Microsoft aggregates protection telemetry from over one billion clients, and cross-references them with numerous signals.

MMPC threat intelligence leverages algorithms to construct and manage a view of threats in the ecosystem. When the endpoint product encounters suspicious activities, it can consult the cloud for real-time analysis before acting on it.

The vast data and computing resources available in the cloud allows the fast detection of polymorphic and emerging threats and the application of advanced protection techniques.

At a high level, here's what the MAPS protection looks like:

How the MAPS cloud protection and telemetry works from the endpoint and back

Figure 1: How the cloud protection and telemetry works from the endpoint and back.

Client machines selectively send telemetry in real-time (for detection), or periodically (for health checks) to the Microsoft Malware Protection Center’s (MMPC) cloud service which includes:

  • Threat telemetry –  to identify the threats, threat-related resources, and remediation results
  • Suspicious behavior – to collect samples, determine what to monitor and remediate
  • Heartbeat – to check the system's pulse to know if the antivirus application is still running, and if it has the updated version

The MMPC cloud service responds to client telemetry with: 

  • Cloud actions – which include context and a set of instructions from the cloud on how to handle a potential threat (for example, block it).
  • Cloud false positive mitigation response – to suppress false positive malware detections

The data gathered is treated with confidentiality. See the Microsoft System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection Privacy Statement for details. To help protect your privacy, reports are sent to Microsoft over an encrypted connection. Relevant data is analyzed

 

What the data shows

Figure 2: Percentage of protection MAPS can contribute over a six-month period

Figure 2: Percentage of protection MAPS can contribute over a six-month period

If we take the System Center Endpoint Protection data as an example, you'll see how MAPS is contributing 10% of protection to enterprise users on SCEP systems.

Imagine living without it – there'll be 10% more machines infected, and 10% more chance of intruders.

 

Prerequisites 
Both Basic membership and Advanced membership enable cloud protection. See the Microsoft Active Protection Service (MAPS) section of the Microsoft System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection Privacy Statement for details.

By default, MAPS Basic is enabled in all of Microsoft’s new antimalware products. For enterprise customers, you have to enable it to get cloud protection from new threats that are coming in.

With the Advanced membership, you can get more information about the malware and/or suspicious behaviour. Such information can give your enterprise infrastructure better protection.

To get your system ready for MAPS, see the Introduction to Endpoint Protection in Configuration Manager.   

 

So, what can you do to protect your enterprise? 

Keep MAPS enabled on your system.  

Join the Microsoft Active Protection Service Community.

To check if MAPS is enabled in your Microsoft security product, select Settings and then select MAPS:

With the MAPS option enabled, Microsoft anti-malware security product can take full advantage of Microsoft's cloud protection service

Figure 3: With the MAPS option enabled, Microsoft anti-malware security product can take full advantage of Microsoft's cloud protection service

 

MMPC