by Katie Kleemola and Seth Hardy
As part of our ongoing study into targeted attacks on human rights groups and civil society organizations, the Citizen Lab analyzed a malicious email sent to Tibetan organizations in June 2013. The email in question purported to be from a prominent member of the Tibetan community and repurposed content from a community mailing list. Attached to the email were what appeared to be three Microsoft Word documents (.doc), but which were trojaned with a malware family we call “Surtr”.1 All three attachments drop the exact same malware. We have seen the Surtr malware family used in attacks on Tibetan groups dating back to November 2012.
While the malicious attachments appear to be DOC files due to their file extension, they are actually RTFs crafted to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Word: CVE-2012-0158.
This particular vulnerability was first exploited in early April 2012 and a patch was released by Microsoft on April 10, 2012. Currently, the sample is detected as malicious by 34 percent of antivirus (AV) engines on VirusTotal (VT).
The malicious attachment is created using a shared template that we have seen used against multiple Tibetan groups. This template was created in March 2013 and, instead of specifically using the vulnerable ActiveX controls described in the vulnerability description, it utilizes the Chartspace Office Web Component. This component either suffers from the same vulnerability or uses one of the named ActiveX controls resulting in the attacker being able to execute malicious code.
Although CVE-2012-0158 was first published and used in the wild in April 2012, samples using this template were only initially detected by three AV engines (on VT). Therefore, while a third of AV engines had a detection signature for CVE-2012-0158 as late as April 2013, it was possible to design a document using a year old vulnerability that was recognized as malicious by very few AV products. This number has since risen and it is currently being detected by 34 percent of the AV products listed on VT.
This vulnerability highlights the need to keep both operating systems and applications up to date as well as to exercise vigilance concerning links and email attachments.
Malicious attachments with this template all use a similar dropper which originally drops the payload to the temporary file directory.
Surtr creates either a new explorer or iexplore process and injects itself into this new process using CreateRemoteThread function.
It also creates the following folders:
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/123
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/Burn
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/LiveUpdata_Mem
It creates multiple copies of the payload including in both the Burn and LiveUpdata_Mem folders. The copy in the Burn folder is called [VICTIM COMPUTER NAME].dll and there are three copies in the LiveUpdata_Mem folder whose names consist of 6 random alphanumeric characters which are then appended with .dll, _Fra.dll and _One.dll. These copies will differ from the original payload dropped in the %TEMP% folder by filling the resource section with varying amounts of 00 bytes. This also results in the malware having a much larger file size (30-50mb) possibly in an attempt to evade antivirus heuristics.
Surtr connects to a command and control server (C2) and downloads a stage two component to %ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/Burn/_[VICTIM COMPUTER NAME].log. This particular sample connects to internet.3-a.net on port 9696.
In May 2012, internet.3-a.net resolved to the same IP (22.214.171.124) as android.uyghur.dnsd.me, which is a C2 used in Android malware attacks that targeted the Tibetan community as previously documented by the Citizen Lab.
The stage two component that was downloaded in this particular case has an internal name of x86_GmRemote.dll, however we have seen an alternate stage two used with the name Remote.dll as well. Our analysis in this post focuses on the GmRemote variation as it has been seen in multiple attacks.
Surtr’s capabilities include listing of file directories and contents on the victim computer and any USB drives connected to a victim machine, viewing web cache, executing remote commands and logging keystrokes.
In order to store temporary information, Surtr creates the following folders:
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/MpCache
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/nView_DiskLoydb
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/nView_KeyLoydb
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/nView_skins
%ALL USERS%/Application Data/Microsoft/Windows/UsbLoydb
For example, in nView_DiskLoydb, a file called FileList.db that contains file and directory listings will be placed and nView_KeyLoydb will contain text files with keylogger output. The keylogger output is disguised by adding a constant to the ordinal value of the character.
This data can then be sent to the C2. It is compressed using zlib DEFLATE so the network traffic is not human readable without decompression.
It can also download additional malware onto the victim computer, which can provide attackers with further abilities like accessing the victim computer’s webcam or microphone. In particular, we have seen Surtr used in conjunction with the Gh0st RAT derived LURK0 malware.
For persistency, Surtr adds a key to the registry to ensure it runs when the infected computer is restarted. It also stores its C2 information and a campaign code in the registry.
Depending on the configuration, Surtr will either create multiple registry keys in Software\Microsoft\Windows Media in HKU (hkey users) with text data or a single key called XC consisting of binary data. These are usually xor encrypted with a key of 0x1.
Other Samples & Variations
We have seen a large number of similar samples sent to Tibetan groups that use the same stage two (GmRemote) and communicate with the following C2s: dtl.dnsd.me, dtl.eatuo.com, dtl6.mooo.com and tbwm.wlyf.org. These C2s were also used in previous attacks documented in an earlier Citizen Lab post on LURK0 malware targeting the Tibetan community.
One particular sample (md5: ad9e5f79585eb62bc40b737e98bfd62e) which connects to C2 domain dtl6.mooo.com (which resolved to the same IP as the other dtl domains mentioned above) on port 6178 was seen to download LURK0 malware after the initial Surtr infection. This LURK0 sample had the campaign code ZQ6 that connects to C2 domain tbwm.wlyf.org on port 3103. This domain also resolved to the same IP as the dtl domains.
We have also found reports of other Surtr stage 2 (GmRemote) samples that have campaign codes which suggest they may be targeted at commercial and government targets.
|eyesfeel.com||126.96.36.199 (now registered to firstname.lastname@example.org)|
Searching for more samples in Virus Total Intelligence (VTI) using domains and other identifying features reveals four related files:
Most of these samples have campaign codes that suggest commercial targets. However, we do not have information about where these samples were submitted from, so the target sector and victims cannot be confirmed.
A second GmRemote sample was found via the web, called Trojan/Subxe.89E1 by Anchiva. This sample connects to google.djkcc.com and uses campaign code in1102. Other subdomains under djkcc.com include:
mailnic.djkcc.com (MailNIC is an Indian email site at the National Informatics Centre)
rediffmail.djkcc.com (Rediffmail is an Indian email site)
While we do not have information about what victims these samples target, the campaign code, C2 domain, and related subdomains give some possible indications.
One additional find via VTI is a GmRemote sample internally named: GmKeyBoradServer_DLL.dll (MD5 e7e1c69496ad7cf093945d3380a2c6f4).
It exports functions (GmFunctionType, GmInitPoint, GmMyInitPoint, GmRecvPoint, GmShutPoint, GmVerSion) that are referenced in other GmRemote samples, although none of them have any real content.
These additional samples suggest that Surtr is being used to target groups beyond the Tibetan community and is possibly being utilized by multiple threat actors.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The attacks we have observed that use the Surtr malware family are another example of the persistent targeted malware campaigns the Tibetan community faces. The specific attack reported in this post demonstrates that attackers are actively monitor mailing lists and discussion groups used by the Tibetan community and repurpose the content for use in targeted malware attacks.
For communities under persistent threat from targeted malware campaigns, user vigilance and education are essential for reducing risk.
- Users should carefully examine the sender’s email address of emails and exercise caution in opening unexpected or unsolicited attachments or opening unverified links.
- See Citizen Lab’s Recommendations for defending against targeted cyber threats for additional information, and Tibet Action Institute’s Detach from Attachments and Think Before You Click campaigns.
The Citizen Lab is continuing to monitor targeted malware campaigns using Surtr and will post updates as they are available.
Appendix MD5’s & Identifiers
Email Attachment Names & MD5s:
The hashes of the resource section vary based on how much it is padded.
Stage 2 (downloaded component)