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Saturday, 07 November 2020 05:54

Researchers find new backdoor that uses DLL side-loading to attack Windows

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Researchers find new backdoor that uses DLL side-loading to attack Windows Image by Xpics from Pixabay

Researchers from global security firm Sophos claim they have found new malware that uses DLL side-loading to run malicious code and install backdoors on Windows systems.

Sophos threat research director Gabor Szappanos said in a detailed blog post that the targets appeared to be non-governmental organisations in Myanmar (formerly Burma), adding that there was a suspicion that a group with Chinese connections was behind the attacks.

He explained DLL side-loading this way: "Side-loading is the use of a malicious DLL spoofing a legitimate one, relying on legitimate Windows executables to load and execute the malicious code."

Szappanos said while the technique was not novel, with its use being observed seven years ago, this particular payload had not been glimpsed by the company's researchers.

"It stands out because the threat actors used several plaintext strings written in poor English with politically inspired messages in their samples," he said.

"The cases are connected by a common artifact: the program database path. All samples share a similar PDB path, with several of them containing the folder name 'KilllSomeOne'.”

Szappanos said four different side-loading scenarios had been used by the same threat actor. Two delivered a payload carrying a simple shell, while the other two carried a more complex set of malware. He provided technical details of all four scenarios.

"The types of perpetrators behind targeted attacks in general are not a homogeneous pool," Szappanos commented. "They come with very different skillsets and capabilities. Some of them are highly skilled, while others don’t have skills that exceed the level of average cyber criminals.

"The group responsible for the attacks we investigated in this report don’t clearly fall on either end of the spectrum. They moved to more simple implementations in coding — especially in encrypting the payload — and the messages hidden in their samples are on the level of script kiddies. On the other hand, the targeting and deployment is that of a serious APT group.

"Based on our analysis, it’s not clear whether this group will go back to more traditional implants like PlugX or keep going with their own code. We will continue to monitor their activity to track their further evolution."


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Sam Varghese

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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