Kaspersky malware probers have uncovered a new ‘operating system’-like platform they was developed and used by the National Security Agency (NSA) in its Equation spying arsenal.
The EquationDrug or Equestre platform is used to deploy 116 modules to target computers that can siphon data and spy on victims.
“It’s important to note that EquationDrug is not just a trojan, but a full espionage platform, which includes a framework for conducting cyberespionage activities by deploying specific modules on the machines of selected victims,” Kaspersky researchers say in a report.
“Other threat actors known to use such sophisticated platforms include Regin and Epic Turla.
“The architecture of the whole framework resembles a mini-operating system with kernel-mode and user-mode components carefully interacting with each other via a custom message-passing interface.”
The platform is part of the NSA’s possibly ongoing campaign to infect hard disk firmware. It replaces the older EquationLaser and is itself superseded by the GrayFish platform.
Kaspersky says the newly-identified wares are as “sophisticated as a space station” thanks to the sheer number of included espionage tools.
Extra modules can be added through a custom encrypted file system containing dozens of executables that together baffle most security bods.
Most of the unique identifiers and codenames tied to modules is encrypted and obfuscated. Some modules capabilities can be determined with unique identification numbers. Others are dependent on other plugins to function.
Each plugin has a unique ID and version number that defines a set of functions it can provide. Some of the plugins depend on others and might not work unless dependencies are resolved.
Kaspersky bods have found 30 of the 116 modules estimated to exist.
“The plugins we discovered probably represent just a fraction of the attackers’ potential,” the researchers say.
Executable timestamps reveal NSA developers likely work hardest on the platform on Tuesdays to Fridays, perhaps having late starts to Monday.
Modules detected in the tool include code for:
- Network traffic interception for stealing or re-routing
- Reverse DNS resolution (DNS PTR records)
- Computer management
- Start/stop processes
- Load drivers and libraries
- Manage files and directories
- System information gathering
- OS version detection
- Computer name detection
- User name detection
- Locale detection
- Keyboard layout detection
- Timezone detection
- Process list
- Browsing network resources and enumerating and accessing shares
- WMI information gathering
- Collection of cached passwords
- Enumeration of processes and other system objects
- Monitoring LIVE user activity in web browsers
- Low-level NTFS filesystem access based on the popular Sleuthkit framework
- Monitoring removable storage drives
- Passive network backdoor (runs Equation shellcode from raw traffic)
- HDD and SSD firmware manipulation
- Keylogging and clipboard monitoring
- Browser history, cached passwords and form auto-fill data collection.
Security researchers have uncovered highly sophisticated malware that is linked to a secret National Security Agency hacking operation exposed by The Intercept last year.
Russian security firm Kaspersky published a report Monday documenting the malware, which it said had been used to infect thousands of computer systems and steal data in 30 countries around the world. Among the targets were a series of unnamed governments, telecom, energy, and aerospace companies, as well as Islamic scholars, and media organizations.
Kaspersky did not name the NSA as the author of the malware. However, Reuters reported later on Monday that the agency had created the technology, citing anonymous former U.S. intelligence officials.
Kaspersky’s researchers noted that the newly found malware is similar to Stuxnet, a covert tool reportedly created by the U.S. government to sabotage Iranian nuclear systems. The researchers also identified a series of codenames that they found contained within the samples of malware, including STRAIGHTACID, STRAITSHOOTER, and GROK.
Notably, GROK, which Kaspersky said is a piece of malware used to secretly log keystrokes, is tied to secret NSA hacking tactics described in documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Last year, The Intercept revealed that the NSA was using a tool called GROK to log keystrokes as part of a toolkit it uses to hack computers and collect data.
The other codenames identified by Kaspersky on Tuesday—such as STRAIGHTACID, STRAITSHOOTER—are strikingly similar to known NSA hacking operations. Leaked NSA documents have revealed that the agency uses hacking tools known as STRAIGHTBIZARRE and FOXACID to break into computers and grab data.
According to Kaspersky, the malware found in the latest discovery is the most advanced ever found and represents an “astonishing technical accomplishment.” It hides deep within an infected computer and can stay on the machine even after attempts to wipe or reformat the hard drive. The security firm has dubbed different variants of the malware EquationLaser, EquationDrug and GrayFish, and they are calling its creators the “Equation Group,” because of the way the spy technology attempts to hide itself in an infected computer using complex encryption.