'Je Suis Charlie' malware shows attackers' agility

Malware targeting "Je suis Charlie" demonstrates the continuing evolution of malware writers

je suis charlie hebdo

Solidarity Rally for the attack of January 7, 2015, Luxembourg, Brussels.

Credit: Valentina Cala

New malware piggy-backing on the viral "Je suis Charlie" slogan demonstrates the continuing evolution of malware writers, able to respond to trends quickly and with a robust distribution infrastructure.

The new malware, based on DarkComet RAT code, was spotted within 24 hours of the attack against the Charlie Hedbo satirical newspaper last week in Paris, according to researchers from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Blue Coat Systems, Inc.

And it was clever enough to get around antivirus scanners -- according to Blue Coat, only 2 out of 53 antivirus programs were able to detect it as of Wednesday.

"It demonstrates how agile these criminal organizations have become," said Blue Coat's chief security strategist Hugh Thompson.

The fast response time also shows that the cybercriminals have a large and well-developed infrastructure and distribution network on the ready.

"They can react very quickly, personalize their attacks very quickly, and distribute them very quickly," he said.

"It's not the first time we've seen this kind of personalization of an attack," he added. "We're seeing an increasing response time, an infrastructure that's been built out pretty robustly over the last few years."

The infrastructure also changes quickly to stymie researchers, he added.

"The domains and hosts spin up, only exist for 24 hours, and then disappear never to be seen again," he said. "What we're seeing are not just a fixed set of services at country X at this IP address -- though those exist -- but we're also seeing that they're very dynamic in their infrastructure. These folks have developed a competency in building out infrastructure... and they're getting more paranoid. They're not just using one layer of distribution, they're using multiple layers of distribution, and the command and control infrastructure obscures even deeper still."

It's very challenging to fight, he said.

The "Je suis Charlie" malware uses DarkComet Delphi code but envelops it in a .NET wrapper to make it more difficult to spot.

The malware uses a command and control server that resolves to a French IP address, and includes an error message in French designed to trick users into thinking that the file was created in an older version of Movie Maker.

The malware launches an image which shows an image of the hand of a newborn baby wearing a hospital bracelet that says "Je suis Charlie," which means "I am Charlie" in French.

The image was spread virally through social media. For example, on Twitter, it piggybacked on the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, which became a global statement of support for the victims of the January 7 massacre at the newspaper. It has been used more than 5 million times.

The malware itself uses the DarkComet remote access rootkit, which lets hackers take control of user machines and do things remotely.

Blue Coat notified French authorities about the malware.

"These folks are predators," said Thompson. "They're ready to go after the sadness of humanity."

To comment on this article and other CSO content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter stream.
Insider: Hacking the elections: myths and realities
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.