Pawn Storm Update: Trend Micro Discovers New Java Zero-Day Exploit
Analysis and data by Brooks Li (Threats Analyst) and Feike Hacquebord (Senior Threat Researcher)
Zero-day exploits continued to be used in targeted attacks because they are effective, given that software vendors have yet to create patches for them. Throughout our on-going investigation and monitoring of a targeted attack campaign, Operation Pawn Storm, we found suspicious URLs that hosted a newly discovered zero-day exploit in Java. This is the first time in nearly two years that a new Java zero-day vulnerability was reported.
Note that this zero-day exploit is NOT part of the recent slew of vulnerabilities related to the Hacking Team leak. The group behind Operation Pawn Storm is using the Java zero-day exploit as part of their campaign.
The said URLs hosting the new Java zero-day exploit are similar to the URLs seen in the attack launched by the threat actors behind Pawn Storm that targeted North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members and White House last April 2015. However, at that time, these URLs were not hosting the said exploit yet. Pawn Storm also targeted other nation-state organizations using political events and meetings such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum and the Middle East Homeland Security Summit 2014 as part of its social engineering tactics. Media and defense industries were other entities targeted by this APT campaign apart from military and government.
We are able to detect this zero-day exploit through feedback from the Trend Micro™ Smart Protection Network™. Email messages targeting a certain NATO member and a US defense organization contained these malicious URLs where this Java exploit is hosted. Currently, this vulnerability is still not patched by Oracle. Based on our investigation, the latest Java version 126.96.36.199 is affected. Older versions, Java 1.6 and 1.7 are not affected by this zero-day exploit. We have notified Oracle and we’re collaborating with their security team as well for research activities. We will update this blog as new information about this threat is found. Note that this entry serves as a warning for a possible zero-day attack.
Once successfully exploited, it executes arbitrary code on the default Java settings thus compromising the security of the system. Trend Micro detects the exploit code as JAVA_DLOADR.EFD. The file which Trend Micro detects as TROJ_DROPPR.CXC drops the payload, TSPY_FAKEMS.C to user home folder.
Trend Micro is already able to protect users against this threat without any necessary updates. The existing Sandbox with Script Analyzer engine, which is part of Trend Micro™ Deep Discovery, can be used to detect this threat by its behavior. The Browser Exploit Prevention feature in the Endpoint Security in Trend Micro™ Smart Protection Suite detects the exploit once the user accesses the URL that hosted it. Our Browser Exploit Prevention protects user systems against exploits targeting browsers or related plugins.
We also recommend users to disable Java in browsers if installed due to an application. For more tips on how to minimize the risks of using Java, you can read our entry, How to Use Java-If You Must.
Other related posts to Operation Pawn Storm can be found here:
- Pawn Storm Espionage Attacks Use Decoys, Deliver SEDNIT
- Operation Pawn Storm: Putting Outlook Web Access Users at Risk
- Pawn Storm Update: iOS Espionage App Found
- Operation Pawn Storm Ramps Up its Activities; Targets NATO, White House
With Additional analysis by Peter Pi, Jack Tang and Weimin Wu.