KASPERSKY SECURITY ANALYST SUMMIT 2018 – Cancun, Mexico – A newly discovered nation-state cyber espionage campaign targeting Africa and the Middle East infects network routers in order to snare administrative credentials from its targets and then move freely throughout the network.
Kaspersky Lab researchers unearthed the stealthy and highly sophisticated operation - named "Slingshot" after a word found in the attack code – that has infected at least 100 victims since at least 2012, with nearly half in Kenya, and the rest in Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tanzania, Greece, Jordan, Somalia, Tunisia, Turkey, Mauritius, and the United Arab Emirates. The attackers ultimately gain kernel-mode access to victim machines where they then gather screenshots, network information, keyboard data, passwords, USB connections, and other activity and data.
Just how Slingshot initially compromises the target's network routers is unclear, but Kaspersky researchers say the goal is to gain access to valuable systems admin credentials that then give the attackers a foothold in the network. Slingshot targets MikroTik routers, dropping a malicious dynamic link library (DLL) on the devices that serves as a downloader for other malware. Then when a router admin accesses the router, his or her machine gets silently compromised via the infected router.
Router hacking is a relatively rare attack vector, but it's an effective one for hackers. Malicious code can sit on these perimeter devices unnoticed because few security tools can detect it. "We think the developers of the malware decided to infect the victims from routers because they wanted to stay undetected," said Alexey Shulmin, lead malware analyst, Kaspersky Lab, in an interview. "A compromised router can be very hard to detect … During the past years, we have seen several high-profile cases where router malware was involved."
Shulmin said router security is typically a "blind spot" for organizations. "We are probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg" in router compromises, he said.
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