How hackers used Google in stealing corporate data

A group of innovative hackers used free services from Google and an Internet infrastructure company to disguise data stolen from corporate and government computers, a security firm reported.

FireEye discovered the campaign, dubbed Poisoned Hurricane, in March while analyzing traffic originating from systems infected with a remote access tool (RAT) the firm called Kaba, a variant of the better known PlugX.

[Rise seen in use of Google service for mobile botnets]

The compromised computers were discovered in multiple U.S. and Asian Internet infrastructure service providers, a financial institution and an Asian government organization. FireEye did not disclose the name of the victims.

The unidentified hackers had used spear-phishing attacks to compromise the systems and then used the malware to steal sensitive information and send it to remote servers, FireEye said.

What was unique about the attackers was how they disguised traffic between the malware and command-and-control servers using Google Developers and the public Domain Name System (DNS) service of Fremont, Calif.-based, Hurricane Electric.

In both cases, the services were used as a kind of switching station to redirect traffic that appeared to be headed toward legitimate domains, such as, and

"It was a novel technique to hide their traffic," Ned Moran, senior threat intelligence researcher for FireEye, said Thursday.

The attackers' tactics were clever enough to trick a network administrator into believing the traffic was headed to a legitimate site, Moran said.

The malware disguised its traffic by including forged HTTP headers of legitimate domains. FireEye identified 21 legitimate domain names used by the attackers.

In addition, the attackers signed the Kaba malware with a legitimate certificate from a group listed as the "Police Mutual Aid Association" and with an expired certificate from an organization called "MOCOMSYS INC."

In the case of Google Developers, the attackers used the service to host code that decoded the malware traffic to determine the IP address of the real destination and then redirect the traffic to that location.

Google Developers, formerly called Google Code, is the search engine's Web site for software development tools, application programming interfaces (APIs) and documentation on working with Google developer products. Developers can also use the site to share code.

With Hurricane Electric, the attacker took advantage of the fact that its domain name servers were configured, so anyone could register for a free account with the company's hosted DNS service.

The service allowed anyone to register a DNS zone, which is a distinct, contiguous portion of the domain name space in the DNS. The registrant could then create A records for the zone and point them to any IP address.

In addition, Hurricane did not check whether newly created zones were already registered or owned by other parties, FireEye said.

Google and Hurricane were notified of the malicious use of their services, Moran said. Both companies had removed the attack mechanisms.

[Scammers still using Google Drive for phishing attacks]

"We appreciate FireEye discovering and documenting this unusual attack, so that we could immediately fix our service to eliminate the possibility of this type of abuse in the future," Mike Leber, a spokesman for Hurricane said in an email sent to CSOonline.

Moran believed the services were victims of hacker creativity versus a flaw.

"These are services offered online that can be used for good or ill," he said. "A gun can be used to protect and a gun can be used to hurt."

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hackersGoogle securityapplicationsmalware toolkitsFireEyemalwareRemote Access toolsAPThacker groupsGooglesecurityratsoftwareadvanced persistent threatsdata protection

More about FireEyeGoogle

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Antone Gonsalves

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place