News / Science & Technology

'Mask' Malware Called 'Most Advanced' Cyber-espionage Operation

FILE - A man types on a computer keyboard.
FILE - A man types on a computer keyboard.

Related Articles

Sochi Games Present Hacking Minefield

If you do not need the device, do not take it, US State Department warns

More Questions than Answers About China Internet Outage

Chinese officials point to hackers, while others say it was a glitch in the Great Firewall that caused massive outages
Researchers at the Internet security firm Kaspersky Lab say they have uncovered what they’re calling “one of the most advanced global cyber-espionage operations to date.”

The malware is called “Careto,” which roughly means face or mask in Spanish. Since at least 2007, it has netted 380 unique victims in 31 countries, Kaspersky said.

Kaspersky called the Mask  “an extremely sophisticated piece of malware,” which is very hard to detect.

The malware predominantly targets government institutions, diplomatic offices and embassies, energy, oil and gas companies, research organizations and activists, Kaspersky said.

Countries where Mask infections have been observed include several in Latin America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela.

Additional countries included China the United States, Turkey, Egypt, France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia and the United Kingdom.

Spanish language tie

Apart from the Mask’s duration and scope, it is of interest because the “authors appear to be native in the Spanish language which has been observed very rarely in APT (advanced persistent threat) attacks,” according to Kaspersky.

According to Christopher Burgess, CEO of Prevendra, Inc., an Internet security firm, “the Spanish-language market has not been a primary focus of the information security community at the enterprise/government or individual consumer level.”

“It is well known the Spanish banking software offerings are among the best, thus the targeting of the ingredients of the various countries’ economic backbones and foreign diplomacy of the region is most interesting,” he said.

Burgess said that the big question is who could pull this off?

Kaspersky offers one idea.

“Several reasons make us believe this could be a nation-state sponsored campaign, said Costin Raiu, Director of the Global Research and Analysis Team at Kaspersky Lab in a statement.

“First of all, we observed a very high degree of professionalism in the operational procedures of the group behind this attack," he said.

"From infrastructure management, shutdown of the operation, avoiding curious eyes through access rules and using wiping instead of deletion of log files," he said.

"These combine to put this APT ahead of Duqu (another malware) in terms of sophistication, making it one of the most advanced threats at the moment," he said. "This level of operational security is not normal for cyber-criminal groups.”

Dmitry Bestuzhev, head of Kaspersky’s research center for Latin America, has his own strong suspicions.

“We can certainly say it’s some Spanish speaking government,” he said in an email. “We say it’s a government because of the Careto complexity. The attackers invested a lot of science time and also money. This can be only a government.”

But Matthew Aid, a an independent intelligence analyst, said he didn’t think it was a nation-state like China, Russia or the U.S.

“It sounds like something a group of hackers would do,” he said.

He said that the programming used in a lot of malware systems that could be done by “some kids sitting at a terminal thinking how they can put malware out into the ether.”

“It’s not all that hard to do,” he said.

Taking off the 'Mask'

Kaspersky said they first became aware of the Mask last year when it tried “to exploit a vulnerability in the company’s products which was fixed five years ago.”

Infections occur through spear-phishing e-mails with links to a “malicious website.”

Spear-phishing emails appear to come from a trusted source. After infecting the computer, the malicious website sends the user to the real website referenced in the email.

Kaspersky said the Mask “can intercept network traffic, keystrokes, Skype conversations, PGP keys, analyse WiFi traffic, fetch information from all Nokia devices, screen captures and monitor all file operations.”

Bestuzhev said the malware stole “secrets of the latest research done in the laboratories, diplomatic documents, government plans and documents in general.”

“It was also stealing private encryption keys and private encryption certificates used to cipher connections and locally stored data,” he said. “Additionally the attackers stole certificated used to signed PDF documents."

"It’s a very important point since now they can build malicious PDF files including exploits and when to sign them with a valid signature, so nobody would suspect it is something malicious which would allow to trespass many security filters,” he said.

Concerns about information

Aid said that he sometimes thinks Kaspersky can be “alarmist,” but that he liked that the company “goes places and looks under rocks” that other security firms don’t.

“They don’t give you the means by which you can make an independent assessment,” he said. “This is the sixth or seventh major storm they’ve raised, and then it disappears, and you sort of wonder has this malware disappeared or is it still out there in the ether?”

Kaspersky said that during the investigation into the Mask, the command and control servers, which were in Latin America, were shut down, meaning, at least temporarily, the malware can’t call home.

But Aid is quick to warn about the longevity of malware.

“When you insert something into the Internet, it never dies,” he said. “Once it’s on the Internet, it will never go away.”

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid