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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs