Microsoft sounds alarm over 'highly evasive' banking malware

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Microsoft’s cybersecurity researchers have noticed an uptick in the use of a malware delivery technique known as HTML smuggling in email campaigns that deploy banking malware, remote access Trojans (RATs), and other malicious payloads. 

HTML smuggling enables attackers to conceal an encoded script within a specially crafted HTML attachment, which assembles the malicious payload right on the victim’s machine.

“This technique is highly evasive because it could bypass standard perimeter security controls, such as web proxies and email gateways, that often only check for suspicious attachments (for example, EXE, ZIP, or DOCX) or traffic based on signatures and patterns,” note the researchers. 

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The technique proves to be effective against most protection solutions like antivirus apps and firewalls because they only see what appears to be non-threatening HTML and JavaScript traffic, which the researchers can also be obfuscated to further trick the protection mechanisms.

Malware silk route

The researchers share that HTML smuggling has been popularly used in banking malware campaigns, against targets in Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Peru, and Portugal. Furthermore, beyond banking malware campaigns, sophisticated, and targeted cyberattacks have also been observed to incorporate HTML smuggling in their arsenal. 

They note that between July and August, open source intelligence (OSINT) community signals showed an uptick in the use of HTML smuggling in campaigns that deliver remote access Trojans (RATs) such as AsyncRAT/NJRAT, followed by an email campaign in September that leveraged HTML smuggling to deliver the Trickbot malware.

“The surge in the use of HTML smuggling in email campaigns is another example of how attackers keep refining specific components of their attacks by integrating highly evasive techniques,” note the researchers, adding how Microsoft 365 Defender uses multiple techniques including machine learning (ML) to protect against such threats.

Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.