Menu
Cyberespionage group abuses Windows hotpatching mechanism for malware stealth

Cyberespionage group abuses Windows hotpatching mechanism for malware stealth

The group has targeted Asian government organizations since 2009

A cyberespionage group active in Asia has been leveraging a Windows feature known as hotpatching in order to better hide its malware from security products.

The group, which malware researchers from Microsoft call Platinum, has been active since at least 2009 and has primarily targeted government organizations, defense institutes, intelligence agencies and telecommunications providers in South and Southeast Asia, especially from Malaysia, Indonesia and China.

So far the group has used spear phishing -- fraudulent emails that target specific organizations or individuals -- as its main attack method, often combining it with exploits for previously unknown, or zero-day, vulnerabilities that install custom malware. It places great importance on remaining undetected.

To achieve this, it only launches a small number of attack campaigns every year. Its custom malware components have self-deletion capabilities and are designed to run only during the victims' working hours, to hide their activity among regular user traffic, Microsoft's Windows Defender Advanced Threat Hunting team said in a report.

While the Microsoft researchers stopped short of saying with certainty that Platinum is a state-sponsored cyberespionage group, they said that "the group shows traits of being well funded, organized, and focused on information that would be of most use to government bodies."

One of the more interesting techniques used by the group is known as hotpatching. This leverages a somewhat obscure feature that was first introduced in Windows Server 2003 and which allows the dynamic updating of system components without the need to reboot the computer.

Hotpatching was removed in Windows 8 and later versions, because it was rarely used. During the 12 years support life of Windows Server 2003, only 10 patches used this technique.

The potential use of hotpatching as a stealth way to inject malicious code into running processes was described by security researcher Alex Ionescu at the SyScan security conference in 2013. And it is his technique that the Platinum group uses.

This is the first time that the Microsoft researchers have seen the technique used in the wild by malicious attackers.

"Using hotpatching in a malicious context is a technique that can be used to avoid being detected, as many antimalware solutions monitor non-system processes for regular injection methods, such as CreateRemoteThread," the Microsoft researchers said in a blog post. "What this means in practical terms is that PLATINUM was able to abuse this feature to hide their backdoor from the behavioral sensors of many host security products."

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Slideshows

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016

Reseller News looks back on a tumultuous 12 months for the New Zealand channel, assessing the fallout from a year of sizeable industry change. Whether it be local or global mergers and acquisitions, distribution deals or job changes, the channel that started the year differs somewhat to the one set to finish it - Reseller News assesses the key moments that made 2016.​

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016
​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel

​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel

Hewlett Packard Enterprise honoured its top performing Kiwi partners at the second running of its HPE Partner Awards in New Zealand, held at a glitzy ceremony in Auckland. Recognising excellence across eight categories - from distributors to resellers - the tech giant celebrated its first year as a standalone company, following its official split from HP in 2015.

​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel
Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise

Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise

Nutanix recently took to the seas for a Christmas Cruise around Sydney Harbour with its Australia and New Zealand staff, customers and partners to celebrate a stellar year for the vendor. With the sun out, they were all smiles and mingled over drinks and food.

Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise
Show Comments