Malicious Chrome browser extensions were used in a massive surveillance campaign aimed at users working in the financial services, oil and gas, media and entertainment, healthcare, government organizations, and pharmaceuticals.
The malicious Chrome browser extensions were discovered by researchers from Awake Security that shared their findings with Google.
“When we are alerted of extensions in the Web Store that violate our policies, we take action and use those incidents as training material to improve our automated and manual analyses,” said Scott Westover, a Google spokesperson, in a statement.
The tech giant removed over 100 Chrome browser extensions from the official Web Store.
“The Awake Security Threat Research Team has uncovered a massive global surveillance campaign exploiting the nature of Internet domain registration and browser capabilities to spy on and steal data from users across multiple geographies and industry segments.” reads the analysis published by Awake Security.
Experts pointed out that the attackers also used the Google Chrome browser extensions to create persistent footholds on corporate networks.
The malicious Chrome browser extensions were free, they are masqueraded as applications to either alert users to questionable websites or to convert files.
According to Awake Security, the extensions were downloaded 33 million times and they were part of a massive surveillance campaign that was aided by the internet domain registrar CommuniGal Communication Ltd. (GalComm).
In an email exchange, Galcomm owner Moshe Fogel told Reuters that his company is done involved in the campaign.
“Galcomm is not involved, and not in complicity with any malicious activity whatsoever,” Fogel wrote. “You can say exactly the opposite, we cooperate with law enforcement and security bodies to prevent as much as we can.”
Awake Security researchers speculate the attackers exploited the trust placed in GalComm as a domain registrar.
“By exploiting the trust placed in it as a domain registrar, GalComm has enabled malicious activity that has been found across more than a hundred networks we’ve examined.” continues the report. “Furthermore – the malicious activity has been able to stay hidden by bypassing multiple layers of security controls, even in sophisticated organizations with significant investments in cybersecurity.”
In the past three months alone, the experts identified 111 malicious or fake Chrome extensions using GalComm domains as C2 infrastructure and/or as repository for the extensions.
These malicious extensions can harvest credential tokens stored in cookies or parameters, take screenshots, read the content of the clipboard, and grab user keystrokes.
Experts discovered that of the 26,079 reachable domains registered through GalComm, 15,160 domains (60%) are malicious or suspicious
The domains were found hosting several browser-based surveillance tools and malware. Threat actors behind this surveillance campaign used multiple evasion techniques to avoid the domains being labeled as malicious.
“Browsers have replaced Windows, MacOS, etc. as the new operating system. Critical and popular applications like Microsoft 365, Google, Salesforce, Workday, Facebook, LinkedIn and Zoom live in our Internet browsers.” concludes the report. “Passively targeting these applications with malicious browser extensions is akin to the new attacker rootkit—giving the adversary virtually unfettered access to our business and personal online lives.”
(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Chrome)
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