Monday, November 24, 2014

Symantec IDs sophisticated 'Regin' malware

The back-door-type Trojan was likely developed by a nation state

By Nancy Weil
IDG News Service | Nov 23, 2014 12:55 PM PT

Symantec researchers have identified a particularly sophisticated piece of malware, called "Regin" that was likely developed by a nation state and has been used to spy on governments, infrastructure operators, businesses, researchers and individuals since at least 2008.

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"Regin displays a degree of technical competence rarely seen," Symantec said in a statement Sunday, released along with a technical white paper about the malware. Indications are that Regin "is one of the main cyberespionage tools used by a nation state."

Researchers have identified its use in 10 countries, mainly Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as Mexico, Ireland, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Belgium, Austria and Pakistan.

Regin is a back-door-type Trojan, "customizable with an extensive range of capabilities depending on the target," Symantec said, adding that "it provides its controllers with a powerful framework for mass surveillance." Its development probably took months "if not years" and "its authors have gone to great lengths to cover its tracks."

Its first incarnation was used to spy on a number of organizations from 2008 to 2011 when it was "abruptly withdrawn," with a new version showing up last year, Symantec said. Nearly half of the Regin infections that have been identified involve private individuals and small businesses, with attacks on the telecommunication sector apparently aimed at gaining access to calls routed through that infrastructure.

The malware is a multistaged threat, with each stage hidden and encrypted, except for the first stage, execution of which initiates a domino decryption chain and loads each subsequent stage. There are five stages in total, with each offering scant information about the entire malware package, Symantec said. "Only by acquiring all five stages is it possible to analyze and understand the threat."