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New cyber-espionage threat revealed

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A new cyber-espionage threat has been uncovered, targeting mostly users in the Middle East, according to Kaspersky Lab.

Originally discovered by advanced threat detection company Seculert, Madi is a computer network infiltration campaign that involves a malicious Trojan which is delivered via social engineering schemes to carefully selected targets.

Kaspersky Lab and Seculert worked together to sinkhole the Madi Command & Control (C&C) servers to monitor the campaign. Kaspersky Lab and Seculert identified more than 800 victims located in Iran, Israel and select countries across the globe connecting to the C&Cs over the past eight months.

Statistics from the sinkhole revealed that the victims were primarily business people working on Iranian and Israeli critical infrastructure projects, Israeli financial institutions, Middle Eastern engineering students, and various government agencies communicating in the Middle East.

In addition, examination of the malware identified an unusual amount of religious and political “distraction” documents and images that were dropped when the initial infection occurred.

“While the malware and infrastructure is very basic compared to other similar projects, the Madi attackers have been able to conduct a sustained surveillance operation against high-profile victims,” says Nicolas Brulez, senior malware researcher at Kaspersky Lab. “Perhaps the amateurish and rudimentary approach helped the operation fly under the radar and evade detection.”

“Interestingly, our joint analysis uncovered a lot of Persian strings littered throughout the malware and the C&C tools, which is unusual to see in malicious code. The attackers were no doubt fluent in this language,” adds Aviv Raff, chief technology officer of Seculert.

The Madi info-stealing Trojan enables remote attackers to steal sensitive files from infected Windows computers, monitor sensitive communications such as e-mail and instant messages, record audio, log keystrokes, and take screenshots of victims’ activities. Data analysis suggests that multiple gigabytes of data have been uploaded from victims’ computers.

Common applications and websites that were spied on include accounts on Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, ICQ, Skype, Google+, and Facebook. Surveillance is also performed over integrated ERP/CRM systems, business contracts, and financial management systems.