Security researchers discovered a new family of data-wiping malware which uses more advanced methods of hiding out and evading detection. The malware is called StoneDrill and most probably it is related to the attack group behind the recently resurrected Shamoon data-wiping malware. Apart from this, the experts found that Shamoon 2.0 also has added a brand new component – a ransomware feature.
After a five-year absence, Shamoon came back again last year, and again – early this year, in three waves of attacks targeting government and civil organizations in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
According to security experts, the ransomware feature for Shamoon 2.0 has not yet been seen deployed in the wild as yet, however, it could provide a layer of deniability for the hackers behind it by making it look like a typical cybercrime gang trying to make an easy bitcoin profit.
“It seems to suggest that ransomware sabotage and wiping go hand-in-hand in some ways,” said Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, the senior Kaspersky Lab security researcher, in an online press briefing.
“The notion is that either way, you’re holding the value of an enterprise hostage. It’s only a matter of a keystroke whether it [the data] will go away or not.”
An independent security researcher confirmed that some nation-state groups already have employed ransomware against their targets – mainly to appear as a cybercriminal group and not to tip their hands as an APT.
Usually, the ransomware attack payment features are pilfered from a real cybercrime gang’s attack repertoire and victims don’t get their data back even if they do pay ransom. According to researchers, the APT group already will have wiped it and disabled the infected machines in those cases.
Mike Oppenheim, the global lead in research for IBM X-Force IRIS says that the experts also have noticed a ransomware feature with Shamoon 2, “It makes sense that Shamoon, a destructive malware, would have ransomware with it.”
In the meantime, StoneDrill takes the data-wiping malware model to the next level by injecting itself into the memory process of the user’s browser of choice as soon as it is installed on the victim’s PC.
According to Andrés Guerrero-Saade, it’s not clear as yet how the hackers initially infect the victim, but StoneDrill remains under surveillance and away from the prying eyes of sandbox technology. So far, the analysis shows that it’s similar in style to Shamoon, however, the codebase is different.
The security researchers also found that it had infected not only Middle East targets but also a European target as well. According to the experts, the malware employs some of the same code previously used by the so-called NewsBeef or Charming Kitten APT.
The more advanced features and possible other evasion steps in the language settings used by the StoneDrill attackers to throw off investigators and threat hunters are par for the course.
“There is an evolution of any sort of tool that a threat actor is going to do. They have to stay ahead of the companies trying to find them. We always see this as a cat and mouse game,” the IBM X-Force’s Oppenheim says.
“The more interesting part is not the ‘what’ but the ‘why.’ What are they targeting and why,” CrowdStrike’s Meyers says, pointing out that most attacks have geopolitical ties to current events. He expects the US to be one of the next big targets given the increasingly tense political climate between the US and Iran.
According to Andrés Guerrero-Saade from Kaspersky Lab, his team hasn’t yet seen Shamoon 2.0 or StoneDrill attacks against US organizations, however.
“While there is no direct indication that the attackers are currently targeting US institutions, the severity of wiper operations, their ability to cripple organizations, and capacity to cause great financial and reputational damage should place them near the top of concerns for all organizations,” he says. The expert recommends beefing up attack defenses for these types of threats.
Despite the recent uptick in destructive malware attacks from Shamoon 2.0 and now StoneDrill, these are still not anywhere near as widespread as other targeted malware campaigns. These type of attacks over the past decade have been relatively rare.
“There have been less than ten in the past decade, which suggest how careful and unusual they are even for well-established APT actors,” Andrés Guerrero-Saade states.