Kaspersky Lab unmasks new malware targeting routers

Slingshot cyberespionage malware uses infected routers to gain access to victims’ machines

Tags: Cyber crimeKaspersky Lab
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Kaspersky Lab unmasks new malware targeting routers Slingshot’s main purpose seems to be cyberespionage, collecting screenshots, keyboard data, network data, passwords, USB connections and other desktop activity.
By  David Ndichu Published  March 11, 2018

Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered a malware that has compromised Mikrotik brand of routers, through which it infected computers across Middle East and Africa.  

The malware, dubbed ‘Slingshot’, attacks and infects victims through these compromised routers and can run in kernel mode, giving it complete control over victim devices. According to the researchers, many of the techniques used by this threat actor are unique and it is extremely effective at stealthy information gathering, hiding its traffic in marked data packets that it can intercept without trace from everyday communications.

So far, researchers have seen around 100 victims of Slingshot and its related modules, located in Kenya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Congo, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Tanzania. Most of the victims appear to be targeted individuals rather than organisations, but there are some government organisations and institutions.  Kenya and the Yemen account for most of the victims observed so far.

Slingshot’s main purpose seems to be cyberespionage. Analysis suggests it collects screenshots, keyboard data, network data, passwords, USB connections, other desktop activity, clipboard data and more, although its kernel access means it can steal whatever it wants.

The Slingshot operation, which has been running from at least 2012 until February 2018, was discovered after researchers found a suspicious keylogger program and created a behavioural detection signature to see if that code appeared anywhere else. This triggered a detection that turned out to be an infected computer with a suspicious file inside the system folder named scesrv.dll. The researchers decided to investigate this further. Analysis of the file showed that despite appearing legitimate, the scesrv.dll module had malicious code embedded into it. Since this library is loaded by ‘services.exe’, a process that has system privileges, the poisoned library gained the same rights. The researchers realised that a highly advanced intruder had found its way into the very core of the computer.

During these attacks, the group behind Slingshot appears to compromise the routers and place a malicious dynamic link library inside it that is in fact a downloader for other malicious components. When an administrator logs in to configure the router, the router’s management software downloads and runs the malicious module on the administrator’s computer. The method used to hack the routers in the first place remains unknown.

The development time, skill and cost involved in creating Slingshot’s complex toolset is likely to have been extremely high. Taken together, these clues suggest that the group behind Slingshot is likely to be highly organized and professional and probably state-sponsored. Text clues in the code suggest it is English-speaking. However, accurate attribution is always hard, if not impossible to determine, and increasingly prone to manipulation and error, the researchers caution.

Kaspersky Lab says its products can successfully detect and block this threat. Users of Mikrotik routers should upgrade to the latest software version as soon as possible to ensure protection against known vulnerabilities. 

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