OS X Targeted by Espionage Group

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 @ 05:09 PM gHale

Attackers known for espionage attacks against the U.S. Defense Industrial Base, as well as companies from the electronics and engineering sectors, just started using a backdoor program to target Mac OS X systems.

“The backdoor code was ported to OS X from a Windows backdoor that has been used extensively in targeted attacks over the past several years, having been updated many times in the process,” said security researchers from FireEye in a blog post.

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The malicious program is XSLCmd and is capable of opening a reverse shell, listing and transferring files and installing additional malware on an infected computer. The OS X variant can also log keystrokes and capture screen shots, FireEye researchers said.

When installed on a Mac the malware copies itself to /Library/Logs/clipboardd and $HOME/Library/LaunchAgents/clipboardd. It also creates a com.apple.service.clipboardd.plist file to ensure its execution after system reboots.

The malware contains code that checks the OS X version, but does not account for versions above 10.8 (Mountain Lion). This suggests that version 10.8 was either the latest OS X version when the developers wrote the program or at least the most common one used by its intended targets.

The XSLCmd backdoor ended up created and used by a cyberespionage group that has been operating since at least 2009 and dubbed GREF by the FireEye researchers.

While GREF has occasionally used phishing emails to distribute its malware, the group’s preferred method of attack is strategic website compromises, otherwise known as a watering hole attacks. This method involves infecting websites frequently visited by targets with exploits for vulnerabilities in browsers or browser plug-ins like Flash Player, Adobe Reader and Java.

Sites compromised by GREF in older attack campaigns include those of the Center for Defense Information, the National Defense Industrial Association, the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference and satellite company Millennium Space Systems.

This new XSLCmd variant is the latest of several backdoor programs for Mac OS X used in cyberespionage attacks in the past couple of years.

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