Threat Management, Threat Management, Threat Intelligence, Malware, Vulnerability Management

Researchers: Microsoft Office flaw exploited by suspected Iranian APT group

Researchers believe a suspected Iranian APT group is responsible for a recent cyber espionage operation that targeted a Middle Eastern government organization, using a recently patched remote code execution vulnerability in Microsoft Office as an attack vector.

In a Nov. 7 blog post, FireEye researchers report that the threat actor, assessed to be APT34, used the memory corruption vulnerability CVE-2017-11882 to deploy the PowerShell-based backdoor POWRUNER as well as BONDUPDATED, a downloader with domain generation algorithm (DGA) functionality. Since at last July 2017, these two malwares have been used in previous campaigns attributed to APT34, which FireEye says "loosely aligns" with reports of a group commonly referred to in cybersecurity circles as OilRig.

To launch the campaign, the attackers sent a spear phishing email with a malicious Rich Text Format file attachment to its intended victim, whom FireEye does not name. This file is specifically crafted to exploit CVE-2017-11882, which was previously discovered in the Microsoft Equation Editor component of Microsoft Office and subsequently patched on Nov 14.

According to FireEye, the exploit "corrupts the memory on the stack and then proceeds to push the malicious data to the stack." At that point, the malware overwrites the function address with a instruction that calls for a certain function that creates a child process, which in turn downloads a malicious script from a domain.

This script contains a PowerShell command for downloading a dropper, which sneaks the final payloads, as well as several other key components, into the directory C:ProgramDataWindowsMicrosoftjava.

One of the two last-stage payloads, the backdoor POWRUNER is capable of communicating host data to its command-and-control server, including information about the logged-in user, hostname, network configuration data, active connections, process information, local and domain admin accounts, an enumerations of user directories, FireEye reports. Additionally, the malware can capture and store a screenshot of a victim's system.

"Recent activity by APT34 demonstrates that they are capable group with potential access to their own development resources," FireEye states in its blog. "During the past few months, APT34 has been able to quickly incorporate exploits for at at least two publicly vulnerabilities (CVE-2017-0199 and CVE-2017-11882) to target organizations in the Middle East. We assess that APT34's efforts to continuously update their malware, including the incorporation of DGA for C2, demonstrate the group's commitment to pursing strategies to deter detection."

In a separate blog post on Friday, Palo Alto Networks addressed a recent bevy of CVE-2017-11882 exploits found in the wild. The company's Unit 42 researchers note that since Nov. 20, Palo Alto has identified "thousands of attempted attacks which exploit this vulnerability...." One recent attack targeting European organizations involved an email with an attached fake invoice document, which when opened executed an infection chain sequence resulting in a final payload of the information-stealing trojan FormBook.

The backdoor POWRUNER is a PowerShell script that can do things like capture and store a screenshot of a victim's system. It can also 
The backdoor POWRUNER is a PowerShell script that can do things like capture and store a screenshot of a victim's system. It can also 
Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

Get daily email updates

SC Media's daily must-read of the most current and pressing daily news

By clicking the Subscribe button below, you agree to SC Media Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.