Regin malware linked to attacks on Belgacom, well-known cryptographer

Regin's targets have lead to suspicions that the U.S. and U.K. may have created it

After Symantec blew the lid on Regin on Sunday, computer security experts and companies are revealing information that has lead to suspicions that the US and UK are involved.

Regin has been known about for years by security companies, but Symantec's white paper on the malware prompted several in the last day to come forward with what they know.

It's unclear why security companies maintained a collective silence about Regin for so long. Symantec said it first discovered Regin about a year ago and that it took the company that long to analyze it.

Within a day of Symantec's report, rival Kaspersky Lab had published a 28-page whitepaper of its own, indicating that the company was well-prepared for when Regin became public.

The Regin platform is considered highly sophisticated due to its use of encryption and modular components, which made it hard for analysts to figure out.

It was used against telecom companies, ISPs, small businesses and individuals, with the aim of collecting login credentials and sensitive data, including infiltrating GSM base stations. Symantec said many of the targets were in Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The Intercept reported on Monday that it was Regin which struck the telecommunications company Belgacom and was used against European Union targets. The publication said its conclusion is based on a technical analysis of the malware and sources who investigated those attacks.

Documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden indicated that Belgacom was targeted by the British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) as part of Operation Socialist, according to Der Spiegel.

The Snowden documents revealed many methods of attack and targets of the NSA and GCHQ, which have conducted sophisticated and extensive data collection operations.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee M. Vines wrote via email Monday that the agency would not comment on The Intercept's "speculation."

Kaspersky Lab wrote on Monday it obtained a sample of malware that had infected the computer of Jean Jacques Quisquater, a well-known Belgian cryptographer who said his computer was targeted by a sophisticated attack.

Quisquater told IDG News Service in February that investigators from the Belgian Federal Computer Crime Unit (FCCU) told him that the attack against his laptop was directly related to the Belgacom incident.

"We were able to obtain samples from the Quisquater case and confirm they belong to the Regin platform," according to Kaspersky's white paper.

Ronald Prins of Fox-IT, a computer forensics company, told The Intercept his company investigated the attacks against Belgacom. Prins told the publication that Regin was the most sophisticated malware he has ever studied and that he was "convinced" it was used by U.S. and U.K. intelligence services.

Other computer security companies have been less direct about Regin's creator. Symantec maintained that it believed Regin was of such clever engineering that it must have been developed by a nation-state, but it stopped short of naming one.

In a statement on Monday, Symantec said it has not found any identifiers in Regin's code that indicate its origin and that "we do not have sufficient evidence to attribute it to any particular state or agency."

The Finnish computer security company F-Secure saw an early version of Regin in 2009 and also shied away from naming a country.

But Antti Tikkanen, director of security response at F-Secure Labs, wrote in a blog post: "Our belief is that this malware, for a change, isn't coming from Russia or China."

F-Secure found Regin on a server run by one of its customers in northern Europe. The server was occasionally crashing and showing the Blue Screen of Death, Tikkanen wrote. The cause was a driver that turned out to be a rootkit and an early Regin variant.

Mikko Hypponen, F-Secure's chief research officer, wrote on Twitter that F-Secure added detection for Regin, but didn't write about it publicly due to customer confidentiality concerns.

Hypponen maintained that F-Secure added detection for Regin in its products and that "no customer (and no government) has ever asked us not to add detection on some specific malware."

Microsoft also picked up on Regin, adding an entry for a variant into its database of malware on March 9, 2011. The entry, however, contains no technical data.

Send news tips and comments to Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags intrusionsymantecMicrosoftsecurityf-securemalwarekaspersky lab

More about F-SecureGCHQIDGKasperskyMicrosoftNational Security AgencyNewsNSASpiegelSymantec

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

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