Blackhole creator releases stealthier exploit kit

Kit has grown in popularity because of reputation for quickly adding exploit code for new vulnerabilities

The developer of the infamous Blackhole exploit kit has released a new version that makes it more difficult to blacklist URLs pointing to websites containing malware.

Blackhole version 2.0 was introduced Tuesday on the Russian site Malware don't need Coffee. The toolkit, which is popular among cybercriminals, contains a number of new features meant to avoid detection from antivirus software. Other improvements include support for Windows 8 and unspecified mobile platforms.

Blackhole has grown in popularity because of its reputation for quickly adding exploit code for newly discovered vulnerabilities. The kit was used most recently to exploit a critical Java vulnerability that was publicly known for several days before Java-steward Oracle released a patch

The Blackhole release followed the same marketing playbook for any software upgrade. But rather than list improvements for corporate systems, Blackhole's developer told customers about technology to avoid detection.

"Based on the release notes for Black Hole 2.0, most of the enhancements are geared towards making it more difficult for security solutions to identify and block it from operating," said Vikram Thakur, principle Security Response manager for Symantec.

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To avoid detection by current antivirus technology, the Blackhole creator did a rewrite of the toolkit's code. In addition, improvements were made to the software's administration panel.

Security experts said the most interesting new feature was the ability to generate short-term, random URLs pointing to malicious websites or hijacked sites that contain hacker-installed malware. Because the URLs keep changing, it's difficult for search engines, site owners and security companies to identify malicious pages.

"If it does the randomization the way it describes, then it's a pretty sound implementation in trying to avoid search engines and others," said Marcus Carey, a security researcher at Rapid7.

The Blackhole creator decided to provide more value for the same price. Kaspersky Lab's Threatpost blog said a one-year license remained at $1,500 for unlimited domains. For cybercriminals who want to rent Blackhole from the author's server, the price is $50 a day or $500 a month for up to 50,000 and 70,000 hits, respectively.

In general, the new version of Blackhole does not change the threat landscape. Despite claims by the Blackhole creator, security experts were confident they would be able to eventually hack the new version and gather the information needed to update their products for spotting malware.

"Blackhole isn't anymore secure than other software," Carey said. "It's a new release. It comes with marketing claims and all those claims are meant to sell the product."

The best defense against Blackhole and other popular exploit kits, such as Phoenix and Eleonore, remained keeping all software up to date with the latest patches, since the majority of malware created with the kits target known vulnerabilities.

"IT departments need to continue to apply patches for vulnerable operating systems and applications as quickly as possible," Thakur said. "Regardless of how aggressive exploit kits are, they all pose the exact same danger to a computer that has a known vulnerability."

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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