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New Frontiers In Cryptojacking

Tejas Girme & Rishikesh Bhide of Qualys Malware Research Labs present “New Frontiers in Cryptojacking” at the 21st Anti-Virus Asia Researchers International Conference (AVAR) 2018 in Goa, India.

Cryptojacking attacks are evolving over time to better evade detection by both end users and protection technologies. It’s therefore important for security teams to understand how these attacks work so they can best protect their system resources. In a recent talk at AVAR 2018, Qualys Malware Research Labs presented an analysis of several evasion techniques used by attackers to deliver the Cryptojacking code to web browser and how existing protection technologies stack up against them.

About Cryptojacking

Cryptojacking attacks leverage the victim system’s resources via malicious JavaScript to mine certain cryptocurrencies. Attackers carry out these attacks by infecting popular sites with JavaScript that enables cryptojacking. Any visitor to such sites will download the JavaScript and unknowingly contribute its system resources to mine a cryptocurrency that is added to the attacker’s wallet.

Early Cryptojacking Attacks

CoinHive was the first browser-based CryptoMining service provider. They made it possible to enable browser-based mining on a website by embedding just a few lines of code. Adversaries seized this opportunity and Cryptojacking attacks became prevalent.

Figure 1: JavaScript code that initiates Cryptojacking inside a website.

 

The attacker compromised the vulnerable websites to embed the Cryptojacking code inside the webpage (see Figure 1). This code fetches and instantiates the JavaScript-based mining component from CoinHive server and starts browser-based CryptoMining inside the visitor’s browser. Mining for cryptocurrencies is a resource-intensive process that can consume more than 70% of the CPU power, thus degrading system performance.

A simple protection against these attacks by blacklisting domains which are hosting CryptoMining scripts. This was achieved with ease by blocking access to such domains through IPS.

Use of Proxy

In order to evade domain-based detection, attackers then adapted approaches like proxies and URL randomization to bypass firewall rules. Attackers also leveraged legitimate content delivery services like Github & Pastebin to host coin-mining scripts.

Figure 2 displays a code snippet from an actual attack, where the proxy domain acts as a gateway for delivering the mining payload.

Figure 2: Website loads script hosted on a proxy server.

As a large number of proxy domains is created every day, it became impossible to keep on updating Firewall/IPS rules. This problem was addressed by web browser extensions to protect against Cryptojacking attacks. Some of the early extensions were ‘No Coin’ & ‘MinerBlock’. These extensions relied mainly on crowd-sourced blacklists comprising domains & urls hosting CryptoMining scripts (e.g. ‘nocoin-list’).

Use of Proxy and Obfuscation Methods

Anti-Virus (AV) scan engines quickly caught up and added script and object-based detections, which are effective in detecting mining scripts hosted behind the proxy. To overcome this hurdle, attackers started obfuscating JavaScript code using open-source obfuscators like https://obfuscator.io/. These tools could make complex obfuscations where even object names and values were disguised. This helped attackers hide their mining code from AV signature-based detections. Obfuscation was used at different stages of Cryptojacking attacks to make them even more difficult to detect.

Figure 3 below shows an example of how obfuscated miner code was hosted behind the proxy server.

Figure 3: Website loads obfuscated script hosted behind the proxy server.

Attackers often utilize the full power of the CPU to maximize revenue generated from mining activity. This allowed AV engines to make use of behavior-based signatures to identify mining activity by monitoring CPU usage pattern of every browser instance. AV can terminate a browser instance which is performing CryptoMining.

Combination of Proxy, Obfuscations and Throttling

To remain completely stealthy from both users & detection technologies, the attack techniques also evolved. Instead of utilizing 100% CPU each time, they started to randomize CPU consumption in the range of 40-80% to ensure there is no visible performance impact for the user. This approach reduced the revenue generated per user to some extent, but it allowed them to run campaigns for a longer duration without getting detected.

Figure 4 highlights the configurations used to control the amount of CPU consumption while mining. Throttle 0.2 means it will consume 80% of CPU resources for mining activity.

Figure 4: Cryptojacking code makes use of a throttling parameter.

For more details and examples of attacks using these techniques, please see our previous blog post, Tale of a Friendly CryptoMiner.

Stay Protected Using Qualys BrowserCheck CoinBlocker

Based on our research, Qualys Malware Research Labs developed a free Chrome Web browser extension Qualys BrowserCheck CoinBlocker.

Along with blacklisting & whitelisting of domains, it supports advanced JavaScript scanning to identify & block malicious JavaScript functions. The extension has the ability to detect obfuscated JavaScript components hosted behind proxies.

As new attacks emerge, our R&D team analyzes them and devises new detection techniques that are then incorporated into the new update of the extension. We ensure that our users are always protected against these new attacks.

Staying Safe in the Era of Browser-based Cryptocurrency Mining

Qualys Malware Research Labs is announcing the release of Qualys BrowserCheck CoinBlocker Chrome extension to detect and block browser-based cryptocurrency mining, aka cryptojacking.

Cryptojacking

Cryptojacking attacks leverage the victim system’s resources via malicious JavaScript to mine certain cryptocurrencies. Attackers carry out these attacks by infecting popular sites with JavaScript that enables cryptojacking. Any visitor to such sites will download the JavaScript and unknowingly contribute its system resources to mine a cryptocurrency that is added to the attacker’s wallet. The resource-intensive mining process is carried out on victim systems typically consumes more than 70% of CPU, that reduces system performance, increases power consumption and can cause possible permanent damage to the system.

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Microsoft Misfires with Meltdown Patch, while WannaCry Pops Up at Boeing

In our weekly roundup of InfoSec happenings, we start, as has often been the case this year, with concerning Meltdown / Spectre news — this time involving Microsoft — and also touch on a password hack at Under Armour, a WannaCry infection at Boeing, and a severe Drupal vulnerability.

Microsoft patches its Meltdown patch, then patches it again

In an instance of the cure possibly being worse than the disease, a Microsoft patch for Meltdown released in January created a gaping security hole in certain systems in which it was installed.

It took Microsoft two tries to fix the issue, which affects Windows 7 (x64) and Windows Server 2008 R2 (x64) systems. The company thought it had solved the vulnerability (CVE-2018-1038) with a scheduled patch last Tuesday, but then had to rush out an emergency fix two days later.

Security researcher Ulf Frisk, who discovered the vulnerability, called it “way worse” than Meltdown because it “allowed any process to read the complete memory contents at gigabytes per second” and made it possible to write to arbitrary memory as well.

“No fancy exploits were needed. Windows 7 already did the hard work of mapping in the required memory into every running process,” Frisk wrote. “Exploitation was just a matter of read and write to already mapped in-process virtual memory. No fancy APIs or syscalls required — just standard read and write.”

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Cryptomining is all the rage among hackers, as DDoS amplification attacks continue

In this week’s InfoSec news review we’ll dive into cryptomining, get the latest on DDoS amplification, go over recent data breaches, and check out another vendor claiming it can crack iPhones.

I, me, mine

The freight train that’s cryptomining shows no sign of slowing down, and the cyber security implications are intensifying accordingly.

This week alone, Microsoft detected and disrupted a massive cryptomining malware campaign, a Tesla AWS account got hijacked, a new mining worm was discovered, and Kaspersky researchers warned about increased sophistication of infection methods.  

While there is a legitimate component to this business, malicious hackers eager to profit are aggressively breaching networks and infecting devices — PCs, IoT systems, smartphones, servers — to steal computing power for mining virtual currencies.

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