Security experts from Chronicle, the Alphabet’s cyber-security division, have discovered a Linux variant of the Winnti backdoor. It is the first time that researchers found a Linux version of the backdoor user by China-linked APT groups tacked as Winnti.
The experts believe that under the Winnti umbrella there are several APT groups, including Winnti, Gref, PlayfullDragon, APT17, DeputyDog, Axiom, BARIUM, LEAD, PassCV, Wicked Panda, and ShadowPad. The groups show similar tactics, techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and in some cases shared portions of the same hacking infrastructure.
Chronicle researchers while investigating the cyber attack that hit the Bayer pharmaceutical company in April.
Searching for samples of Winnti malware on its VirusTotal platform, the experts discovered a Linux variant of Winnti, dating back to 2015. At the time the malware was used in the hack of a Vietnamese gaming company.
“In April 2019, reports emerged of an intrusion involving Winnti malware at a German Pharmaceutical company.” reads the analysis published by
Chronicle. “Analysis of these larger convoluted clusters is ongoing. While reviewing a 2015 report of a Winnti intrusion at a Vietnamese gaming company, we identified a small cluster of Winnti⁶ samples designed specifically for Linux.”
The technical analysis of the Linux version of Winnti backdoor revealed the presence of two files, the main backdoor (libxselinux) and a library (libxselinux.so) used to avoid the detection.
The Winnti backdoor has a modular structure, it implements distinct functionalities using plugins. During the analysis, the researchers were unable to recover any active plugins. Experts believe attackers used additional modules for Linux to implement plugins for remote command execution, file exfiltration, and socks5 proxying on the infected host.
Further analysis revealed many code similarities between the Linux version of the Winnti variant and the Winnti 2.0 Windows version.
“The decoded configuration is similar in structure to the version Kaspersky classifies as Winnti 2.0, as well as samples in the 2015 Novetta report.” continues the report. “Embedded in this
Like Windows variants of the Winnti backdoor, the Linux version also handles outbound communications using multiple protocols including ICMP, HTTP, as well as custom TCP and UDP protocols.
The Linux version also implements another feature that allows threat actors to initiate connections to infected hosts without requiring a connection to a control server.
The feature could allow attackers to directly access infected systems when access to the hard-coded control servers is disrupted.
“This secondary communication channel may be used by operators when access to the hard-coded control servers is disrupted. Additionally, the operators could leverage this feature when infecting internet-facing devices in a targeted organization to allow them to reenter a network if evicted from internal hosts.” continues the report. “This passive implant approach to network persistence has been previously observed with threat actors like Project Sauron and the Lamberts.”
In 2016, the Winniti hackers also hit German heavy industry giant ThyssenKrupp to steal company secrets.
“An expansion into Linux tooling indicates iteration outside of their traditionalcomfort zone. This may indicate the OS requirements of their intended targets but it may also be an attempt to take advantage of a security telemitry blindspot in many enterprises, as is with Penquin Turla and APT28’s Linux XAgent variant.” concludes the report that includes IoCs and Yara rules for the identification of the threat.
(SecurityAffairs – Winnti, Linux malware)
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