Targeted attacks against aerospace industry use Sykipot malware

Security researchers from AlienVault have detected new Sykipot attack campaigns

New email-based attacks, some of which target the aerospace industry, are distributing new variants of the Sykipot information stealing malware, according to researchers from security firm AlienVault.

"We have detected a new wave of Sykipot campaigns that has been running during the past weeks," AlienVault Labs manager Jaime Blasco, said Monday in a blog post. "There are several changes between the new Sykipot campaigns and the older ones."

There are clues suggesting that these attacks originated in China, although this cannot be confirmed with one hundred percent certainty, Blasco said Wednesday.

The rogue emails sent in the new attacks no longer distribute malicious attachments that exploit vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader, Microsoft Excel or Internet Explorer to install Sykipot.

Instead, they contain links to compromised websites that exploit a 2011 Flash Player vulnerability or a yet-to-be-patched vulnerability in the Microsoft XML Core Services (MSXML) to install the malware.

The MSXML vulnerability is believed to have been exploited in June attacks that prompted Google to warn its Gmail users about state-sponsored attacks. Microsoft released a manual fix for this vulnerability on June 12.

However, the company should provide a proper automatic security patch as soon as possible because the number of attacks that exploit it are increasing, Blasco said.

The Sykipot Trojan program has been used during the past year in targeted attacks against U.S. federal agencies, defense contractors and other organizations that store sensitive data on their computer systems.

One of the new Sykipot attack campaigns targeted potential attendees to the 2013 IEEE Aerospace Conference, a conference intended for aerospace experts, academics, military personnel and industry leaders.

Each Sykipot variant is tailored for a particular group of targets, Blasco said. For example, in January, AlienVault researchers found a version designed to bypass two-factor authentication based on PC/SC x509 smart cards, which commonly used for access management in the defense sector.

The Sykipot variants distributed in the recent attacks use a slightly modified obfuscation for their configuration files and communicate with the command and control (C&C) servers over SSL. The C&C domains they contact have been registered in the past month, Blasco said.

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