A new cyber-espionage toolkit, targeting users mainly in the Middle East and stealing financial information, has been discovered.
Kaspersky Lab is warning users about Gauss, a complex, nation-state sponsored cyber-espionage toolkit designed to steal sensitive data, with a specific focus on browser passwords, online banking account credentials, cookies, and specific configurations of infected machines.
The online banking Trojan functionality found in Gauss is a unique characteristic that was not found in any previously known cyber-weapons.
Gauss was discovered during the course of the ongoing effort initiated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) , following the discovery of Flame. The effort is aimed at mitigating the risks posed by cyber-weapons, which is a key component in achieving the overall objective of global cyber-peace.
ITU, with expertise provided by Kaspersky Lab, is taking steps to strengthen global cyber-security by actively collaborating with all relevant stakeholders such as governments, the private sector, international organisations and civil society, in addition to its key partners within the ITU-IMPACT initiative.
Kaspersky Lab’s experts discovered Gauss by identifying commonalities the malicious program shares with Flame. These include similar architectural platforms, module structures, code bases and means of communication with command & control (C&C) servers.
Analysis indicates that Gauss began operations in the September 2011 timeframe. It was first discovered in June 2012, resulting from the knowledge gained by the in-depth analysis and research conducted on the Flame malware.
This discovery was made possible due to strong resemblances and correlations between Flame and Gauss. The Gauss C&C infrastructure was shutdown in July 2012 shortly after its discovery. Currently the malware is in a dormant state, waiting for its C&C servers to become active.
Since late May 2012, more than 2 500 infections were recorded by Kaspersky Lab’s cloud-based security system, with the estimated total number of victims of Gauss probably being in the tens of thousands. This number is lower compared to the case of Stuxnet but it’s significantly higher than the number of attacks in Flame and Duqu.
Gauss steals detailed information about infected PCs including browser history, cookies, passwords, and system configurations. It is also capable of stealing access credentials for various online banking systems and payment methods.
Analysis of Gauss shows it was designed to steal data from several Lebanese banks including the Bank of Beirut, EBLF, BlomBank, ByblosBank, FransaBank and Credit Libanais. In addition, it targets users of Citibank and PayPal.
The new malware was discovered by Kaspersky Lab’s experts in June 2012. Its main module was named by the unknown creators after the German mathematician Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss. Other components bear the names of famous mathematicians as well, including Joseph-Louis Lagrange and Kurt Gödel. The investigation revealed that the first incidents with Gauss date back as early as September 2011. In July 2012 the command and control servers of Gauss stopped functioning.
Multiple modules of Gauss serve the purpose of collecting information from browsers, which include the history of visited websites and passwords. Detailed data on the infected machine is also sent to the attackers, including specifics of network interfaces, the computer’s drives and BIOS information.
Another key feature of Gauss is the ability to infect USB thumb drives, using the same LNK vulnerability that was previously used in Stuxnet and Flame. At the same time, the process of infecting USB sticks is more intelligent. Gauss is capable of “disinfecting” the drive under certain circumstances, and uses the removable media to store collected information in a hidden file. Another activity of the Trojan is the installation of a special font called Palida Narrow, and the purpose of this action is still unknown.
While Gauss is similar to Flame in design, the geography of infections is noticeably different. The highest number of computers hit by Flame was recorded in Iran, while the majority of Gauss victims were located in Lebanon. The number of infections is also different. Based on telemetry reported from the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN), Gauss infected approximately 2 500 machines. In comparison, Flame was significantly lower, infecting closer to 700 machines.
Although the exact method used to infect the computers is not yet known, it is clear that Gauss propagates in a different manner to Flame or Duqu; however, similar to the two previous cyber-espionage weapons, Gauss’ spreading mechanisms are conducted in a controlled fashion, which emphasise stealth and secrecy for the operation.
Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Kaspersky Lab, comments: “Gauss bears striking resemblances to Flame, such as its design and code base, which enabled us to discover the malicious program. Similar to Flame and Duqu, Gauss is a complex cyber-espionage toolkit, with its design emphasising stealth and secrecy; however, its purpose was different to Flame or Duqu. Gauss targets multiple users in select countries to steal large amounts of data, with a specific focus on banking and financial information.”