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Monday, 22 October 2018 08:31

Windows servers still infected by DarkPulsar NSA exploit

Windows servers still infected by DarkPulsar NSA exploit Pixabay

Researchers from security outfit Kaspersky Lab say they have found about 50 systems infected by the DarkPulsar malware, part of the NSA exploits which were dumped online by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers in 2017.

A research brief written by Andrey Dolgushev, Dmitry Tarakanov and Vasily Berdnikov said DarkPulsar was in the implants category of the dump which included two frameworks called DanderSpritz and FuzzBunch. DarkPulsar was not a backdoor in itself, but just the administrative part of a backdoor.

They said the FuzzBunch framework had various plugins designed to analyse victims, exploit vulnerabilities and schedule tasks while DanderSpritz was designed to examine machines that had been taken over and gather intelligence.

Together, they formed a powerful platform for cyber-espionage.

The trio said they had found about 50 victims, but theorised that the number must have been much higher when DanderSpritz and FuzzBunch were in active use.

They based this on the fact that the DanderSpritz interface allows an attacker to manage a number of victims simultaneously. Additionally, there was a tendency for attackers to delete malware from systems which they were no longer using, so the 50 victims may have been those who were forgotten.

Dolgushev, Tarakanov and Berdnikov said the victims they had found were all running Windows 2003 Server or Windows 2008 Server, and located in Russia, Iran and Egypt. The victims were all connected to the nuclear energy, telecommunications, IT, aerospace and research and development sectors.

They said DarkPulsar showed evidence of being developed by competent people who had plenty of money to spend on creating advanced malware that would persist on a system.

The researchers said DarkPulsar also included functionality to disable NTLM protocol security meaning that the need to enter a username and password during authentication was bypassed, indicating that an attack using this malware was meant to be a long-term one.

There was one bright note, however. " exploit this backdoor on infected victims, the attackers need to know the private RSA key which pairs to the public key embedded in the backdoor," the Kaspersky trio said. "It means that no one except [the] real DarkPulsar’s managers can exploit compromised systems."

They recommended the following measures to avoid infections:

  • Keep your security products up to date;
  • Do not turn security product components off;
  • Keep your OS updated;
  • Install all security patches asap;
  • Use special traffic analysis tools and pay attention to all encrypted traffic;
  • Do not use weak passwords or the same password for several endpoints;
  • Use complex passwords;
  • Do not allow remote connections to endpoints with administration rights; and
  • Do not allow domain administrators to be local administrators with the same credentials.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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