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Original author: 
Dan Goodin

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

Tens of thousands of websites, some operated by The Los Angeles Times, Seagate, and other reputable companies, have recently come under the spell of "Darkleech," a mysterious exploitation toolkit that exposes visitors to potent malware attacks.

The ongoing attacks, estimated to have infected 20,000 websites in the past few weeks alone, are significant because of their success in targeting Apache, by far the Internet's most popular Web server software. Once it takes hold, Darkleech injects invisible code into webpages, which in turn surreptitiously opens a connection that exposes visitors to malicious third-party websites, researchers said. Although the attacks have been active since at least August, no one has been able to positively identify the weakness attackers are using to commandeer the Apache-based machines. Vulnerabilities in Plesk, Cpanel, or other software used to administer websites is one possibility, but researchers aren't ruling out the possibility of password cracking, social engineering, or attacks that exploit unknown bugs in frequently used applications and OSes.

Researchers also don't know precisely how many sites have been infected by Darkleech. The server malware employs a sophisticated array of conditions to determine when to inject malicious links into the webpages shown to end users. Visitors using IP addresses belonging to security and hosting firms are passed over, as are people who have recently been attacked or who don't access the pages from specific search queries. The ability of Darkleech to inject unique links on the fly is also hindering research into the elusive infection toolkit.

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CrySyS Lab

Researchers have unearthed a decade-long espionage operation that used the popular TeamViewer remote-access program and proprietary malware to target high-level political and industrial figures in Eastern Europe.

TeamSpy, as the shadow group has been dubbed, collected encryption keys and documents marked as "secret" from a variety of high-level targets, according to a report published Wednesday by Hungary-based CrySyS Lab. Targets included a Russia-based Embassy for an undisclosed country belonging to both NATO and the European Union, an industrial manufacturer also located in Russia, multiple research and educational organizations in France and Belgium, and an electronics company located in Iran. CrySyS learned of the attacks after Hungary's National Security Authority disclosed intelligence that TeamSpy had hit an unnamed "Hungarian high-profile governmental victim."

Malware used in the attacks indicates that those responsible may have operated for years and may have also targeted figures in a variety of countries throughout the world. Adding intrigue to the discovery, techniques used in the attacks bear a striking resemblance to an online banking fraud ring known as Sheldon, and a separate analysis from researchers at Kaspersky Lab found similarities to the Red October espionage campaign that the Russia-based security firm discovered earlier this year.

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One of the Twitter feeds MiniDuke-infected machines use to locate a command-and-control server.

Kaspersky Lab

Unidentified attackers have infected government agencies and organizations in 23 countries with highly advanced malware that uses low-level code to stay hidden and Twitter and Google to ensure it always has a way to receive updates.

MiniDuke, as researchers from Kaspersky Lab and Hungary-based CrySyS Lab have dubbed the threat, bears the hallmark of viruses first encountered in the mid-1990s, when shadowy groups such as 29A engineered innovative pieces of malware for fun and then documented them in an E-Zine by the same name. Because MiniDuke is written in assembly language, most of its computer files are tiny. Its use of multiple levels of encryption and clever coding tricks makes the malware hard to detect and reverse engineer. It also employs a method known as steganography, in which updates received from control servers are stashed inside image files.

In another testament to the skill of the attackers, MiniDuke has taken hold of government agencies, think tanks, a US-based healthcare provider, and other high-profile organizations using the first known exploit to pierce the security sandbox in Adobe Systems' Reader application. Adding intrigue to this, the MiniDuke exploit code contained references to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and also alluded to 666, the Mark of the Beast discussed in a verse from the Book of Revelation.

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Aurich Lawson

Researchers have uncovered a never-before-seen version of Stuxnet. The discovery sheds new light on the evolution of the powerful cyberweapon that made history when it successfully sabotaged an Iranian uranium-enrichment facility in 2009.

Stuxnet 0.5 is the oldest known version of the computer worm and was in development no later than November of 2005, almost two years earlier than previously known, according to researchers from security firm Symantec. The earlier iteration, which was in the wild no later than November 2007, wielded an alternate attack strategy that disrupted Iran's nuclear program by surreptitiously closing valves in that country's Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Later versions scrapped that attack in favor of one that caused centrifuges to spin erratically. The timing and additional attack method are a testament to the technical sophistication and dedication of its developers, who reportedly developed Stuxnet under a covert operation sponsored by the US and Israeli governments. It was reportedly personally authorized by Presidents Bush and Obama.

Also significant, version 0.5 shows that its creators were some of the same developers who built Flame, the highly advanced espionage malware also known as Flamer that targeted sensitive Iranian computers. Although researchers from competing antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab previously discovered a small chunk of the Flame code in a later version of Stuxnet, the release unearthed by Symantec shows that the code sharing was once so broad that the two covert projects were inextricably linked.

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Key parts of the infrastructure supporting an espionage campaign that targeted governments around the world reportedly have been shut down in the days since the five-year operation was exposed.

The so-called Red October campaign came to light on Monday in a report from researchers from antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab. It reported that the then-ongoing operation was targeting embassies as well as governmental and scientific research organizations in a wide variety of countries. The research uncovered more than 60 Internet domain names used to run the sprawling command and control network that funneled malware and received stolen data to and from infected machines. In the hours following the report, many of those domains and servers began shutting down, according to an article posted Friday by Kaspersky news service Threatpost.

"It's clear that the infrastructure is being shut down," Kaspersky Lab researcher Costin Raiu told the service. "Not only the registers killing the domains and the hosting providers killing the command-and-control servers but perhaps the attackers shutting down the whole operation."

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Kaspersky Lab

Researchers have uncovered an ongoing, large-scale computer espionage network that's targeting hundreds of diplomatic, governmental, and scientific organizations in at least 39 countries, including the Russian Federation, Iran, and the United States.

Operation Red October, as researchers from antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab have dubbed the highly coordinated campaign, has been active since 2007, raising the possibility it has already siphoned up hundreds of terabytes of sensitive information. It uses more than 1,000 distinct modules that have never been seen before to customize attack profiles for each victim. Among other things, components target individual PCs, networking equipment from Cisco Systems, and smartphones from Apple, Microsoft, and Nokia. The attack also features a network of command-and-control servers with a complexity that rivals that used by the Flame espionage malware that targeted Iran.

"This is a pretty glaring example of a multiyear cyber espionage campaign," Kaspersky Lab expert Kurt Baumgartner told Ars. "We haven't seen these sorts of modules being distributed, so the customized approach to attacking individual victims is something we haven't seen before at this level."

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An image displayed on a computer after it was successfully commandeered by Pinkie Pie during the first Pwnium competition in March.

Dan Goodin

A hacker who goes by "Pinkie Pie" has once again subverted the security of Google's Chrome browser, a feat that fetched him a $60,000 prize and resulted in a security update to fix underlying vulnerabilities.

Ars readers may recall Pinkie Pie from earlier this year, when he pierced Chrome's vaunted security defenses at the first installment of Pwnium, a Google-sponsored contest that offered $1 million in prizes to people who successfully hacked the browser. At the time a little-known reverse engineer of just 19 years, Pinkie Pie stitched together at least six different bug exploits to bypass an elaborate defense perimeter designed by an army of some of the best software engineers in the world.

At the second installment of Pwnium, which wrapped up on Tuesday at the Hack in the Box 2012 security conference in Kuala Lumpur, Pinkie Pie did it again. This time, his attack exploited two vulnerabilities. The first, against Scalable Vector Graphics functions in Chrome's WebKit browser engine, allowed him to compromise the renderer process, according to a synopsis provided by Google software engineer Chris Evans.

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