This advanced new malware strain leaves you practically defenceless

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An extremely potent malware, delivered in a way that’s immune to most cybersecurity (opens in new tab) measures, was discovered infecting high-profile Chinese individuals. 

Cybersecurity researchers from Kaspersky have discovered malware they call WinDealer, distributed and used by a Chinese Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor called LuoYu. WinDealer, the researchers say, is capable of collecting “an impressive amount” of information. It can view and download any files stored on the device, as well as run a keyword search on all the documents.

To deliver the malware to the target endpoint (opens in new tab), the attackers perform a man-on-the-side attack, essentially hijacking in-transit network traffic.

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Racing with the server

When the victim tries to access a certain resource on the internet (for example, open their LinkedIn account), they need to send a request to the server, to open the page. This request is the type of traffic that the attackers can intercept and read, and then try to deliver malicious content before the server responds with the legitimate site.

Kaspersky describes the method as a “race” with the legitimate server, the only difference being - the attacker has as many attempts to deliver malicious content as they want. In order to successfully infect a target endpoint, the attacker needs no interaction with the victim, whatsoever.

Targets are mostly high-profile organizations and individuals in China, the researchers further claim. Foreign diplomatic organizations established in China, members of the academic community, defense, logistics, and telecommunications companies, are all listed as potential targets. Besides China, Kaspersky researchers have also mentioned targets in Germany, Austria, the US, the Czech Republic, Russia, and India.

All of the targets are using Windows as their operating system of choice.

Besides being difficult to spot, the malware (opens in new tab) is also difficult to block. Usually, this type of malware contacts a command & control (C2) server for instructions, and simply blocking the IP address of the server would be enough to neutralize the threat. WinDealer, on the other hand, relies on a complex algorithm that generates IP addresses (48,000, Kaspersky says), making blocking impossible. 

The only way to defend against such an attack is to route the traffic through another network, for example with a VPN. However, having a VPN in China is easier said than done. 

Sead Fadilpašić

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.