Targeted attack means just that: Targeted attack. That means the attacker knows what the victim is all about, meaning it knows where and when it is traveling about the Internet.
That is why researchers are finding attackers are planting malware in places where they think their targeted victim will visit.
These tactics are seeing use as a way to conduct espionage against a host of targets across a variety of industries, including utilities, defense, government, financial services healthcare and academia, said researches at RSA FirstWatch.
Researchers first noticed this new approach in July. They saw an attack technique involving the compromise of legitimate websites specific to a geographic area the attacker believed end users (and potential victims) will visit.
In a report, RSA talks about the victimized sites, but does not give their urls or names.
According to RSA, one of the key watering hole sites was “a website of enthusiasts of a lesser known sport,” hxxp://xxxxxxxcurling.com, according to a report on Krebs on Security. Later in the paper, RSA lists some of the individual pages at this mystery sporting domain that were involved in the attack (e.g, http://www.xxxxxxxcurling.com/Results/cx/magma/iframe.js). As it happens, running a search on any of these pages turns up a number recent visitor logs for this site — torontocurling.com. Google cached several of the access logs from this site during the time of the compromise cited in RSA’s paper, and those logs help to fill in the blanks intentionally left by RSA’s research team, or more likely, the lawyers at RSA parent EMC Corp. (those access logs also contain interesting clues about potential victims of this attack as well), according to the Krebs on Security report.
From cached copies of dozens of torontocurling.com access logs, the full URLs of some of the watering hole sites used in this campaign:
• http://rocklandtrust.com (Massachusetts Bank)
• http://ndi.org (National Democratic Institute)
• http://www.rferl.org (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)
According to RSA, the sites in question ended up hacked between this June and July and were silently redirecting visitors to exploit pages on torontocurling.com. Among the exploits served by the latter include a then-unpatched zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Windows. In that attack, the hacked sites positioned a Trojan named “VPTray.exe” (made to disguise itself as an update from Symantec, which uses the same name for one of its program components).
RSA said the second phase of the attack, from July 16-18, used the same infrastructure but a different exploit – a Java vulnerability Oracle had patched a month earlier.
The compromise of these sites likely led to Trojan attack on high-profile targets, nearly 4,000 in all, RSA said.
“Based on our analysis, a total of 32,160 unique hosts, representing 731 unique global organizations, were redirected from compromised web servers injected with the redirect iframe to the exploit server,” the company said. “Of these redirects, 3,934 hosts were seen to download the exploit CAB and JAR files. This gives a ‘success’ statistic of 12%, which based on our previous understanding of exploit campaigns, indicates a very successful campaign,” RSA said.
What does all this mean for manufacturer? “Any manufacturers who are in the defense supply chain need to be wary of attacks emanating from subsidiaries, business partners, and associated companies, as they may have been compromised and used as a stepping-stone to the true intended target,” Symantec said in a report. “Companies and individuals should prepare themselves for a new round of attacks in 2013. This is particularly the case for companies who have been compromised in the past and managed to evict the attackers. The knowledge that the attackers gained in their previous compromise will assist them in any future attacks.”