A new malware dubbed HiatusRAT infects routers to spy on its targets, mostly in Europe and in the U.S. Learn which router models are primarily targeted and how to protect from this security threat.
As previously exposed, routers might be used by threat actors as efficient locations to plant malware, often for cyberespionage. Routers are frequently less protected than standard devices and are often using modified versions of existing operating systems. Therefore, targeting routers can be interesting for attackers but harder to compromise and use than a usual endpoint or server.
Lumen’s Black Lotus Labs has exposed new malware targeting routers in a campaign named Hiatus by the researchers.
What is the Hiatus malware campaign?
The Hiatus campaign primarily targets DrayTek Vigor router models 2960 and 3900, which run an i386 architecture. These routers are mostly used by medium-size companies, as the router capabilities support a few hundred of employees’ VPN connections.
The researchers also found other malicious binaries targeting MIPS and ARM-based architectures.
The initial compromise vector stays unknown, yet once the attackers get access to the targeted routers, they drop a bash script. When that bash script is executed, it downloads two additional files: the HiatusRAT malware and a variant of the legitimate tcpdump tool, which enables network packet capture.
Once those files are run, the attackers are in control of the router and may download files or run arbitrary commands, intercept the network traffic from the infected device or use the router as a SOCKS5 proxy device, which can be used for further compromises or for targeting other companies.
When the RAT is launched, it checks if port 8816 is used. If the port is used by a process, it kills it and opens a new listener on the port, ensuring that only a single instance of the malware is running on the device.
It then collects information about the compromised device such as system information (such as kernel version, MAC address, architecture type and firmware version), networking information (network interfaces configuration and local IP addresses) and file system information (mount points, directory listing, file system type and virtual memory file system). In addition, it collects a list of all running processes.
After collecting all that information, the malware sends it to an attacker-controlled heartbeat C2 server.
The malware has more capabilities, such as updating its configuration file, providing the attacker with a remote shell, reading/deleting/uploading files, downloading and executing files, or enabling SOCKS5 packet forwarding or plain TCP packets forwarding.
Network packet capture
Aside from the HiatusRAT, the threat actor also deploys a variant of the legitimate tcpdump tool, which enables capturing network packets on the compromised device.
The bash script used by the threat actor showed a particular interest for connections on ports 21, 25, 110 and 143, which are usually dedicated to file transfer protocol and email transfers (SMTP, POP3 and IMAP email protocols).
The script enables more port sniffing, if necessary. If used, the packets captured are sent to an upload C2, different from the heartbeat C2, after the packet interception reaches a certain length.
This allows the threat actor to passively intercept full files transferred via the FTP protocol or emails that traverse the infected device.
The author of the article is Cedric Pernet, who has published it in TechRepublic
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