Symantec researchers observed a new information-gathering tool, Trojan.Laziok, this January and February, targeting primarily oil, gas and helium companies in the Middle East.
The United Arab Emirates saw 25 percent of the infections, while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait experienced 10 percent, and Qatar and Oman receiving 5 percent each.
According to Symantec senior security response manager Satnam Narang, the infection begins with a phishing email that contains an infected attachment – typically, an Excel file.
The attachment uses a known ActiveX exploit to get in, an exploit that had been patched in 2012.
“I know that zero-day vulnerabilities are the crown jewels but what often gets overlooked is that vulnerabilities that have been patched are still regularly leveraged by attackers,” said Narang. “Attackers are banking that there are machines out there running unpatched applications, even though patches exist for them.”
According to Philip Lieberman, president at security vendor Lieberman Software Corp., the recent drop in oil prices has led to a decrease in IT security investment in the oil and gas industry.
“This attack exploits an apparently well-known lack of investment by the oil and gas industry in keeping their Microsoft Office software up to date,” he said.
Lieberman said that his company has seen this first-hand. “In two recent requests for proposals we worked on, the petrochemical companies were unconcerned with the capabilities of the security products they were sourcing, and were only concerned about the price,” he said. “In effect they were saying: ‘We are from purchasing and we don’t care if the solution works.’ Unfortunately, security technology is not a commodity like oil.”
The exploit code in the attachment then installs the Trojan.Laziok, which collects information about the computer and sends it back to the attackers. That includes information about what kind of anti-virus is present.
“It’s a common tactic that we’ve seen for some time now,” said Narang. “It’s very common for attackers to want to know what antivirus is running on a system. There are services they can go and check if their malware would be detected by a specific antivirus vendor.”
Once the Trojan.Laziok attackers have a good picture of the system, they can customise additional tools to avoid detection, Narang said. “The next step is a back door, Backdoor.Cyberat, and an information-stealing Trojan, Trojan.Zbot.” he said.
This malware can monitor audio by turning on the audio on the computer, or capture video using the webcam. It can also log keystrokes and install additional malware.
There isn’t enough information yet to determine whether the goal is espionage, sabotage, or cybercrime, said Narang.
The attacks against Lebanese political groups, using malware code-named Volatile Cedar by its discovers, is probably unrelated, said Narang.
“That is a different attack group, with a different set of tools and processes that they were using. That group started earlier. And as far as our knowledge is, Trojan.Laziok only dates back to the beginning of the year.”
According to researchers at Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., who released the Volatile Cedar report this week, that campaign dates all the way back to 2012.
It also uses a new, custom information-gathering Trojan, which Check Point named Explosive.
But while the Trojan.Laziok attack started with phishing emails, the Volatile Cedar attack began with publicly-facing web servers.
In addition, Check Point traced back the source of the Volatile Cedar attack to actors in Lebanon, and their targets were narrowly targeted political organiations in the country. The targeting of organisations in Lebanon could be related to espionage among rival political groups, researchers said.
The energy sector is a prime target both for cyber criminals seeking to turn a quick profit and for more advanced actors seeking to cause serious economic damage to their targets.
One possible indication that the Trojan.Laziok is not politically motivated is that the malware – which is also known as the Kraken Remote Access Trojan – has been spotted stealing Bitcoin wallets.
“It is unknown who is actually behind the attacks using Kraken,” said Jeremy Scott, senior research analyst at security firm Solutionary, Inc. “However, Kraken is far from an ‘espionage’ malware unless the attackers behind it are more sophisticated than researchers are aware of.”