Targeted malware attacks exploiting IE7 flaw detected

Researchers at TrendMicro have detected a targeted malware attack exploiting last week's patched critical MS09-002 vulnerability affecting Internet Explorer 7.  Upon opening the spammed Microsoft office document, vulnerable users are automatically forwarded to a Chinese live exploit site which still remains active.

Researchers at TrendMicro have detected a targeted malware attack exploiting last week's patched critical MS09-002 vulnerability affecting Internet Explorer 7.  Upon opening the spammed Microsoft office document, vulnerable users are automatically forwarded to a Chinese live exploit site which still remains active.

The attack has also been confirmed by McAfee and by the ISC, who point out that the cybercriminals appear to have reverse engineered Microsoft's patch in order to come up with the exploit.

From TrendMicro's post:

The threat starts with a spammed malicious .DOC file detected as XML_DLOADR.A. This file has a very limited distribution script, suggesting it may be a targeted attack. It contains an ActiveX object that automatically accesses a site rigged with a malicious HTML detected by the Trend Micro Smart Protection Network as HTML_DLOADER.AS.

HTML_DLOADER.AS exploits the CVE-2009-0075 vulnerability, which is already addressed by the MS09-002 security patch released last week. On an unpatched system though, successful exploitation by HTML_DLOADER.AS downloads a backdoor detected as BKDR_AGENT.XZMS.

This backdoor further installs a .DLL file that has information stealing capabilities. It sends its stolen information to another URL via port 443.

The attackers trade-off in this case is to either launch a less noisy targeted attack, or attempt to target as many users as possible by using legitimate web sites as infection vectors, a choice that depends on what they're trying to achieve, and who are they targeting in particular.

Who's behind the attack anyway? The web service (9966.org) used as a "phone back" location with the stolen data, is a well known one used primarily by Chinese hackers in previous massive SQL injections attacks, which doesn't necessarily mean the campaign is launched by Chinese hackers, since it could be international hackers from anywhere using a well known malicious infrastructure in order to forward the responsibility to local hackers.

Moreover, in this particular campaign I can easily argue that the window of opportunity for abusing this vulnerability in a targeted fashion, is just as wide open as attempting to exploit the same hosts by diversifying the use of different exploits. For instance, despite the timely exploitation of MS09-002, based on the number of Conficker affected hosts globally, a situation where once again a patch is present, there's a great chance that some of the hosts they're attempting to exploit through the use of MS09-002 are already part of Conficker's botnet, or remain susceptible to outdated vulnerabilities.

So far, no massive malware campaigns are taking advantage of the exploit, but users are advised to self-audit themselves against known client-side vulnerabilities and MS09-002 in particular.