'Red October' Malware Found Snooping on Russian State Networks

By Weir, Fred | The Christian Science Monitor, January 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

'Red October' Malware Found Snooping on Russian State Networks


Weir, Fred, The Christian Science Monitor


When computer security experts recently discovered the hugely sophisticated and obviously state-sponsored cyberspy worms Stuxnet and Flame, many wondered out loud whether organized criminals might soon get their hands on similar malware tools that can siphon almost any sensitive information from even the best-guarded system.

The answer may have been staring at them from their computer screens all along.

On Monday, the Russian Internet security firm Kaspersky Labs announced that it has hunted down a previously unknown, advanced cyber-espionage network that it calls "Red October" (after Tom Clancy's novel), which has probably been vacuuming top-secret data from diplomatic, scientific, and corporate computers around the world since 2007.

According to the firm, the network is still active.

"Red October operations started five or more years ago, and during that time attackers went unnoticed," says Igor Soumenkov, a malware expert with Kaspersky Labs. "That is why discovery of other attacks of the same class is possible, and we do expect it."

But unlike Stuxnet and Flame, which were almost certainly cyberweapons deployed by the United States and its allies against adversaries like Iran, victims of the new Red October malware, or Rocra for short, span the globe.

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Kaspersky says in its report that it began investigating the network after a tip from an anonymous partner, and has so far identified hundreds of infections worldwide, all of them in top locations such as government networks, diplomatic institutions, nuclear and aerospace agencies, and international trade groups.

The largest number of attacks almost 100 have struck computers in Russia and the former Soviet Union. But, Kaspersky says, "there are also reports coming from North America and Western European countries such as Switzerland or Luxembourg."

The attackers designed custom software to attack particular computer systems, experts say, using "unique modular architecture" comprising malicious extensions, data-grabbing modules, and backdoor trojans. Information extracted was often reused to gain entrance to other systems, by making it easier for the hackers to guess passwords and bypass security barriers.

'Mothership' cloaked

The network of infected computers was controlled by a vast infrastructure created by the attackers, including more than 60 domain names and server hosting locations in several countries, mainly Russia and Germany. Kaspersky says the network was cleverly camouflaged to hide the location of the "mothership" control server.

The level of Red October's sophistication is comparable to the best state-sponsored efforts, such as Stuxnet and Flame, but could conceivably be the work of rogue operatives from the criminal world, says Mr. …

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