Flame -The "Super Spy" Even On Offline Computers Turning Users into Data Mules

Flame -The "Super Spy" Even On Offline Computers Turning Users into Data Mules

The program known as Flame has fascinated the cyber-security industry with its sophistication and versatility as a Swiss-Army knife of cyber-spying. Now researchers have discovered another unexpected tool in its data-stealing arsenal: You.
Malware analysts at the security firm Bitdefender say they’ve found a unique capability within Flame’s code that would potentially allow it to steal data even from computers that aren’t connected to the Internet or to other networked machines. Instead of simply uploading stolen data to a remote server as traditional spyware does, Flame can also move the target information–along with a copy of itself–onto a USB memory stick plugged into an infected machine, wait for an unwitting user to plug that storage device into an Internet-connected PC, infect the networked machine, copy the target data from the USB drive to the networked computer and finally siphon it to a faraway server.
Spreading itself over an infected USB device is hardly a new trick for malware. But Bitdefender’s researchers say they’ve never before seen a cyberespionage program that can also move its stolen digital booty onto the USB stick of an oblivious user and patiently wait for the opportunity to upload it to the malware’s controllers.
“It turns users into data mules,” says Bitdefender senior malware analyst Bogdan Botezatu. “Chances are, at some point, a user with an infected flash drive will plug it into a secure computer in a contained environment, and Flame will carry the target’s information from the protected environment to the outside world…It uses its ability to infect to ensure an escape route for the data. This is is somewhat revolutionary for a piece of malware.”
Flame was designed to use the same .lnk autorun vulnerability first exploited by the NSA-built Stuxnet malware to invisibly install itself on USB devices. To hide its trove of stolen data on the user’s device, Flame copies both itself and its data to a folder labelled with a single “.” symbol, which Windows fails to interpret as a folder name and thus renders as invisible to the user. “What we have here is a little hack/exploit performed on how the operating system is interpreting file names,” Bitdefender’s researchers wrote in a blog post on Flame last week.
When an infected USB is plugged into a networked machine, Flame checks that it can contact its command and control server through that computer. Then it moves its target data off the USB to the PC, compresses it, and sends it to the remote server via HTTPS, according to Bitdefender’s analysis. The researchers found that while Flame is capable of infecting networked PCs for the purpose of exfiltrating its data, the version they analyzed had rendered that infection capability inactive, perhaps to avoid the spyware spreading too far, so that only PCs already infected with Flame would be capable of acting as gateways back to the malware controller’s server. The fact that the spyware’s infection technique was turned off may be evidence that the “data mule” in the Flame operation may in fact have been aware of his or her role as an data smuggler.

Regardless, Botezatu says Flame’s USB-piggybacking trick fits with its profile as a highly sophisticated spying tool meant to steal a target’s most protected secrets–not just another cybercriminal keylogger designed to catch credit card numbers. “Most of the infrastructure it targets is highly contained, often without Internet access,” says Botezatu. “It’s natural for Flame to have a mechanism for moving data from one environment to another that doesn’t rely on Internet or network communications.” For additional details can be found here

-Source (Forbes)


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