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 newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Brand Post

What to expect from your IT Distributor

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been around since before the dot com rollercoaster, choosing the right distribution partner can be a pivotal factor in your success. This definitive guide outlines the traits that every IT partner needs to look for in their IT Distributor.

Featured

Slideshows

Meet the Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 winners

Meet the Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 winners

This year’s Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards were held as an integral part of the first entirely virtual Emerging Leaders​ forum, an annual event dedicated to identifying, educating and showcasing the New Zealand technology market’s rising stars. The 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 recognised the outstanding achievements and business excellence of 30 talented individuals​, across both young leaders and those just starting out. In this slideshow, Reseller News honours this year's winners and captures their thoughts about how their ideas of leadership have changed over time.​

Meet the Reseller News 30 Under 30 Tech Awards 2020 winners
Reseller News Exchange Auckland: Beyond the myths — how partners can master cloud security

Reseller News Exchange Auckland: Beyond the myths — how partners can master cloud security

This exclusive Reseller News Exchange event in Auckland explored the challenges facing the partner community on the cloud security frontier, as well as market trends, customer priorities and how the channel can capitalise on the opportunities available. In association with Arrow, Bitdefender, Exclusive Networks, Fortinet and Palo Alto Networks. Photos by Gino Demeer.

Reseller News Exchange Auckland: Beyond the myths — how partners can master cloud security
Reseller News welcomes industry figures at 2020 Hall of Fame lunch

Reseller News welcomes industry figures at 2020 Hall of Fame lunch

Reseller News welcomed 2019 inductees - Leanne Buer, Ross Jenkins and Terry Dunn - to the fourth running of the Reseller News Hall of Fame lunch, held at the French Cafe in Auckland. The inductees discussed the changing face of the IT channel ecosystem in New Zealand and what it means to be a Reseller News Hall of Fame inductee. Photos by Gino Demeer.

Reseller News welcomes industry figures at 2020 Hall of Fame lunch
Show Comments