European law enforcement agencies automatically wiped the infamous Emotet malware from infected systems across the world as part of a mass sanitization operation.
Early this year, law enforcement and judicial authorities worldwide conducted a joint operation, named Operation Ladybird, which disrupted the EMOTET botnet. At the time the investigators have taken control of its infrastructure in an international coordinated action.
This operation was the result of a joint effort between authorities in the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Lithuania, Canada and Ukraine, with international activity coordinated by Europol and Eurojust.
The law enforcement agency was able to take over at least 700 servers used as part of the Emotet botnet’s infrastructure.
The authorities started pushing out a 32-bit payload named “EmotetLoader.dll” to clean up the infected systems, the process was set to trigger itself automatically on April 25, 2021 as confirmed by researchers at Malwarebytes.
“That updated bot contained a cleanup routine responsible for uninstalling Emotet after the April 25 2021 deadline. The original report mentioned March 25 but since the months are counted from 0 and not from 1, the third month is in reality April.”
The Emotet banking trojan has been active at least since 2014, the botnet is operated by a threat actor tracked as TA542. In the middle-August, the malware was employed in fresh COVID19-themed spam campaign
Recent spam campaigns used messages with malicious Word documents, or links to them, pretending to be an invoice, shipping information, COVID-19 information, resumes, financial documents, or scanned documents.
“According to the affidavit, foreign law enforcement agents, working in coordination with the FBI, gained lawful access to Emotet servers located overseas and identified the Internet Protocol addresses of approximately 1.6 million computers worldwide that appear to have been infected with Emotet malware between April 1, 2020, and Jan. 17, 2021. Of those, over 45,000 infected computers appear to have been located in the United States.” stated the DoJ.
The 32 bit DLL (EmotetLoader.dll) has 3 exports, which all lead to the same function that is used to cleanup the infected processes. The procedure loops on checking if the deadline has passed, in this case, the uninstall routine is immediately invoked.
If the deadline already passed, the uninstall routine is called immediately. Otherwise the thread is run repeatedly doing the same time check, and eventually calling the deletion code if the date has passed.
The uninstallation routine deletes the service associated with Emotet malware, deletes the autorun Registry key, attempts (but fails) to move the file to %temp% and then terminates the process.
The operation appears to have been successful, all the Command & Control servers that were composing the botnet infrastructure are offline as confirmed by the Abuse.ch’s Feodo Tracker.
“Pushing code via a botnet, even with good intentions, has always been a thorny topic mainly because of the legal ramifications such actions imply. The DOJ affidavit makes a note of how the “Foreign law enforcement agents, not FBI agents, replaced the Emotet malware, which is stored on a server located overseas, with the file created by law enforcement”. concludes MalwareBytes.
“The lengthy delay for the cleanup routine to activate may be explained by the need to give system administrators time for forensics analysis and checking for other infections.”
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(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Emotet)