Welcome!

News Feed Item

The Epic Snake: Unraveling the mysteries of the Turla cyber-espionage campaign

Turla, also known as Snake or Uroburos is one of the most sophisticated ongoing cyber-espionage campaigns. When the first research on Turla/Snake/Uroburos was published, it didn’t answer one major question: how do victims get infected?

The latest Kaspersky Lab research on this operation reveals that Epic is the initial stage of the Turla victim infection mechanism.

Turla big picture:

  • Epic Turla / Tavdig: The early-stage infection mechanism.
  • Cobra Carbon system/ Pfinet (+others): Intermediary upgrades and communication plugins.
  • Snake / Uroburos: High-grade malware platform that includes a rootkit and virtual file systems.

Victims:

The “Epic” project has been used since at least 2012, with the highest volume of activity observed in January-February 2014. Most recently, Kaspersky Lab detected this attack against one of its users on August 5, 2014.

Targets of “Epic” belong to the following categories: government entities (Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Trade and Commerce, Ministry of Foreign/External affairs, intelligence agencies), embassies, military, research and education organizations and pharmaceutical companies.

Most of the victims are located in the Middle East and Europe, however, we observed victims in other regions as well, including in the USA. In total, Kaspersky Lab experts counted several hundred victim IPs distributed in more than 45 countries, with France at the top of the list.

The attack. The Kaspersky Lab’s researchers discovered that the Epic Turla attackers use zero-day exploits, social engineering and watering hole techniques attacks to infect victims.

In the past, they used at least two zero-day exploits: one for Escalation of Privileges (EoP) in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 (CVE-2013-5065) which allows the Epic backdoor to achieve administrator privileges on the system and run unrestricted; and an exploit in Adobe Reader (CVE-2013-3346) that is used in malicious e-mail attachments.

Whenever an unsuspecting user opens a maliciously-crafted PDF file on a vulnerable system, the machine will automatically get infected, allowing the attacker to gain immediate and full control over the target system.

The attackers use both direct spear-phishing e-mails and watering hole attacks to infect victims. The attacks detected in this operation fall into several different categories depending on the initial infection vector used in compromising the victim:

● Spear-phishing e-mails with Adobe PDF exploits (CVE-2013-3346 + CVE-2013-5065)

● Social engineering to trick the user into running malware installers with “.SCR” extension, sometimes packed with RAR

● Watering hole attacks using Java exploits (CVE-2012-1723), Adobe Flash exploits (unknown) or Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8 exploits (unknown)

● Watering hole attacks that rely on social engineering to trick the user into running fake “Flash Player” malware installers

Watering holes are websites commonly visited by potential victims. These websites are compromised in advance by the attackers and injected to serve malicious code. Depending on the visitor’s IP address (for instance, a government organization’s IP), the attackers serve Java or browser exploits, signed fake Adobe Flash Player software or a fake version of Microsoft Security Essentials. In total, we have observed more than 100 injected websites. The choice of the websites reflects specific interest of attackers. For example, many of infected Spanish websites belong to local governments.

Once the user is infected, the Epic backdoor immediately connects to the command-and-control (C&C) server to send a pack with the victim’s system information. The backdoor is also known as “WorldCupSec”, “TadjMakhal”, “Wipbot” or “Tadvig”.

Once a system is compromised, the attackers receive brief summary information from the victim, and based on that, they deliver pre-configured batch files containing a series of commands for execution. In addition to these, the attackers upload custom lateral movement tools. These include a specific keylogger tool, a RAR archiver and standard utilities like a DNS query tool from Microsoft.

Turla’s first stage:

During the analysis, Kaspersky Lab researchers observed the attackers using the Epic malware to deploy a more sophisticated backdoor known as the “Cobra/Carbon system”, also named “Pfinet” by some anti-virus products. After some time, the attackers went further and used the Epic implant to update the “Carbon” configuration file with a different set of C&C servers. The unique knowledge to operate these two backdoors indicates a clear and direct connection between each other.

“The configuration updates for the ‘Carbon system’ malware are interesting, because this is another project from the Turla actor. This indicates that we are dealing with a multi-stage infection that begins with Epic Turla. The Epic Turla is used to gain a foothold and validate the high profile victim. If the victim is interesting, it gets upgraded to the full Turla Carbon system” explains Costin Raiu, Director of the Global Research and Analysis Team at Kaspersky Lab.

Language usage:

The attackers behind Turla are clearly not native English speakers. They commonly misspell words and expressions, such as:

  • Password it’s wrong!
  • File is not exists
  • File is exists for edit

There are other indications which provide a hint at the origin of the attackers. For instance, some of the backdoors have been compiled on a system with Russian language. Additionally, the internal name of one of the Epic backdoors is "Zagruzchik.dll", which means "bootloader" or "load program" in Russian.

Finally, the Epic mothership control panel sets the code page to 1251, which is used for Cyrillic characters.

Links with other threat actors:

Interestingly, possible connections with different cyber-espionage campaigns have been observed. In February 2014, Kaspersky Lab experts observed that the threat actor known as Miniduke were using the same web-shells to manage infected web servers as the Epic team did.

To learn more about the “Epic Turla” operation, please read the blog post available at Securelist.com.

About Kaspersky Lab

Kaspersky Lab is the world’s largest privately held vendor of endpoint protection solutions. The company is ranked among the world’s top four vendors of security solutions for endpoint users*. Throughout its more than 16-year history Kaspersky Lab has remained an innovator in IT security and provides effective digital security solutions for large enterprises, SMBs and consumers. Kaspersky Lab, with its holding company registered in the United Kingdom, currently operates in almost 200 countries and territories across the globe, providing protection for over 300 million users worldwide. Learn more at www.kaspersky.com.

* The company was rated fourth in the IDC rating Worldwide Endpoint Security Revenue by Vendor, 2012. The rating was published in the IDC report "Worldwide Endpoint Security 2013–2017 Forecast and 2012 Vendor Shares (IDC #242618, August 2013). The report ranked software vendors according to earnings from sales of endpoint security solutions in 2012.

For the latest in-depth information on security threat issues and trends, please visit:

Securelist | Information about Viruses, Hackers and Spam

Follow @Securelist on Twitter

Threatpost | The First Stop for Security News

Follow @Threatpost on Twitter

More Stories By Business Wire

Copyright © 2009 Business Wire. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Business Wire content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Business Wire. Business Wire shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

Latest Stories
More and more companies are looking to microservices as an architectural pattern for breaking apart applications into more manageable pieces so that agile teams can deliver new features quicker and more effectively. What this pattern has done more than anything to date is spark organizational transformations, setting the foundation for future application development. In practice, however, there are a number of considerations to make that go beyond simply “build, ship, and run,” which changes how...
Traditional on-premises data centers have long been the domain of modern data platforms like Apache Hadoop, meaning companies who build their business on public cloud were challenged to run Big Data processing and analytics at scale. But recent advancements in Hadoop performance, security, and most importantly cloud-native integrations, are giving organizations the ability to truly gain value from all their data. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, David Tishgart, Director of Product Marketing ...
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DXWorldEXPO within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term.
As Enterprise business moves from Monoliths to Microservices, adoption and successful implementations of Microservices become more evident. The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Documenting hurdles and problems for the use of Microservices will help consultants, architects and specialists to avoid repeating the same mistakes and learn how and when to use (or not use) Microservices at the enterprise level. The circumstance w...
Enterprises are striving to become digital businesses for differentiated innovation and customer-centricity. Traditionally, they focused on digitizing processes and paper workflow. To be a disruptor and compete against new players, they need to gain insight into business data and innovate at scale. Cloud and cognitive technologies can help them leverage hidden data in SAP/ERP systems to fuel their businesses to accelerate digital transformation success.
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place November 12-13 in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd international CloudEXPO | first international DXWorldEXPO and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time t...
What are the new priorities for the connected business? First: businesses need to think differently about the types of connections they will need to make – these span well beyond the traditional app to app into more modern forms of integration including SaaS integrations, mobile integrations, APIs, device integration and Big Data integration. It’s important these are unified together vs. doing them all piecemeal. Second, these types of connections need to be simple to design, adapt and configure...
Cell networks have the advantage of long-range communications, reaching an estimated 90% of the world. But cell networks such as 2G, 3G and LTE consume lots of power and were designed for connecting people. They are not optimized for low- or battery-powered devices or for IoT applications with infrequently transmitted data. Cell IoT modules that support narrow-band IoT and 4G cell networks will enable cell connectivity, device management, and app enablement for low-power wide-area network IoT. B...
Transformation Abstract Encryption and privacy in the cloud is a daunting yet essential task for both security practitioners and application developers, especially as applications continue moving to the cloud at an exponential rate. What are some best practices and processes for enterprises to follow that balance both security and ease of use requirements? What technologies are available to empower enterprises with code, data and key protection from cloud providers, system administrators, inside...
With the proliferation of both SQL and NoSQL databases, organizations can now target specific fit-for-purpose database tools for their different application needs regarding scalability, ease of use, ACID support, etc. Platform as a Service offerings make this even easier now, enabling developers to roll out their own database infrastructure in minutes with minimal management overhead. However, this same amount of flexibility also comes with the challenges of picking the right tool, on the right ...
Organizations planning enterprise data center consolidation and modernization projects are faced with a challenging, costly reality. Requirements to deploy modern, cloud-native applications simultaneously with traditional client/server applications are almost impossible to achieve with hardware-centric enterprise infrastructure. Compute and network infrastructure are fast moving down a software-defined path, but storage has been a laggard. Until now.
Evan Kirstel is an internationally recognized thought leader and social media influencer in IoT (#1 in 2017), Cloud, Data Security (2016), Health Tech (#9 in 2017), Digital Health (#6 in 2016), B2B Marketing (#5 in 2015), AI, Smart Home, Digital (2017), IIoT (#1 in 2017) and Telecom/Wireless/5G. His connections are a "Who's Who" in these technologies, He is in the top 10 most mentioned/re-tweeted by CMOs and CIOs (2016) and have been recently named 5th most influential B2B marketeer in the US. H...
Let’s face it, embracing new storage technologies, capabilities and upgrading to new hardware often adds complexity and increases costs. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Seth Oxenhorn, Vice President of Business Development & Alliances at FalconStor, discussed how a truly heterogeneous software-defined storage approach can add value to legacy platforms and heterogeneous environments. The result reduces complexity, significantly lowers cost, and provides IT organizations with improved efficienc...
Contextual Analytics of various threat data provides a deeper understanding of a given threat and enables identification of unknown threat vectors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, David Dufour, Head of Security Architecture, IoT, Webroot, Inc., discussed how through the use of Big Data analytics and deep data correlation across different threat types, it is possible to gain a better understanding of where, how and to what level of danger a malicious actor poses to an organization, and to determin...
Nicolas Fierro is CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions. He is a programmer, technologist, and operations dev who has worked with Ethereum and blockchain since 2014. His knowledge in blockchain dates to when he performed dev ops services to the Ethereum Foundation as one the privileged few developers to work with the original core team in Switzerland.