Tuesday 20th March, 2018
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Malware in Middle East: Sophisticated virus grips the region

Sheetal Sukhija - Sunday 11th March, 2018

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - A sophisticated virus call ‘Slingshot’ is believed to be attacking devices in the Middle East and North Africa region - infecting victims through compromised routers.

The malware can run in kernel mode, experts have warned, claiming that this gives the virus complete control over victimized devices.

According to researchers, the virus can steal whatever it wants and has been uncovered in the MENA region.

A report by Kaspersky Lab, a cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, revealed that the malware has been used for cyber espionage from at least 2012 until February 2018.

Further, researchers pointed out that many of the techniques used by this threat actor are unique.

It is also believed to be extremely effective at stealthy information gathering, hiding its traffic in marked data packets that it can intercept without a trace from everyday communications.

Researchers are said to have uncovered the malware’s operations after they found a suspicious keylogger programme and created a behavioral detection signature to see if that code appeared anywhere else. 

This reportedly triggered a detection that turned out to be an infected computer with a suspicious file inside the system folder named scesrv.dll.

Upon further investigation, an analysis of the file showed that despite appearing legitimate, the scesrv.dll module had malicious code embedded into it.

The poisoned library gained the same rights, since this library is loaded by 'services.exe', a process that has system privileges. 

Kaspersky said in its report that the most remarkable thing about Slingshot is probably its unusual attack vector. 

Researchers said that as they uncovered more victims, they found that many seemed to have been initially infected through hacked routers. 

They pointed out that when the attacks take place, the group behind Slingshot compromises the routers and place a malicious dynamic link library inside it.

This is a downloader for other malicious components. 

Researchers said that Slingshot's main purpose seems to be cyber espionage. 

It reportedly 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 researchers pointed out that so far, they 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.

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.”

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