‘Slingshot’: The spy that came in from the router

Kaspersky Lab researchers find around 100 victims of Slingshot and its related modules in MEA

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‘Slingshot’: The spy that came in from the router Kaspersky says the Slingshot operation was discovered after researchers found a suspicious keylogger program and created a behavioural detection signature.
By  Manda Banda Published  March 13, 2018

Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered a sophisticated threat used for cyber-espionage in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) from at least 2012 until February 2018.

The malware, which researchers have called "Slingshot", attacks and infects victims through compromised routers and can run in kernel mode, giving it complete control over victim devices. According to 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.

The Slingshot operation 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 Kaspersky researchers decided to investigate this further and 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.

According to Kaspersky Lab, 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.

Alexey Shulmin, Lead Malware Analyst, Kaspersky Lab, said: "Slingshot is a sophisticated threat, employing a wide range of tools and techniques, including kernel mode modules that have to date only been seen in the most advanced predators. The functionality is very precious and profitable for the attackers, which could explain why it has been around for at least six years."

The most remarkable thing about Slingshot is probably its unusual attack vector. As researchers uncovered more victims, they found that many seemed to have been initially infected through hacked routers. 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.

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.

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