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“AfterMidnight” allows operators to dynamically load and execute malware payloads on a target machine. The main controller disguises as a self-persisting Windows Service DLL and provides secure execution of “Gremlins” via a HTTPS based Listening Post (LP) system called “Octopus”. Once installed on a target machine AM will call back to a configured LP on a configurable schedule, checking to see if there is a new plan for it to execute. If there is, it downloads and stores all needed components before loading all new gremlins in memory. “Gremlins” are small AM payloads that are meant to run hidden on the target and either subvert the functionality of targeted software, survey the target (including data exfiltration) or provide internal services for other gremlins. The special payload “AlphaGremlin” even has a custom script language which allows operators to schedule custom tasks to be executed on the target machine.
“Assassin” is a similar kind of malware; it is an automated implant that provides a simple collection platform on remote computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system. Once the tool is installed on the target, the implant is run within a Windows service process. “Assassin” (just like “AfterMidnight”) will then periodically beacon to its configured listening post(s) to request tasking and deliver results. Communication occurs over one or more transport protocols as configured before or during deployment. The “Assassin” C2 (Command and Control) and LP (Listening Post) subsystems are referred to collectively as” The Gibson” and allow operators to perform specific tasks on an infected target..
The document illustrates a type of attack within a “protected environment” as the the tool is deployed into an existing local network abusing existing machines to bring targeted computers under control and allowing further exploitation and abuse.
Scribbles is intended for off-line preprocessing of Microsoft Office documents. For reasons of operational security the user guide demands that “[t]he Scribbles executable, parameter files, receipts and log files should not be installed on a target machine, nor left in a location where it might be collected by an adversary.”
According to the documentation, “the Scribbles document watermarking tool has been successfully tested on […] Microsoft Office 2013 (on Windows 8.1 x64), documents from Office versions 97-2016 (Office 95 documents will not work!) [and d]ocuments that are not be locked forms, encrypted, or password-protected”. But this limitation to Microsoft Office documents seems to create problems: “If the targeted end-user opens them up in a different application, such as OpenOffice or LibreOffice, the watermark images and URLs may be visible to the end-user. For this reason, always make sure that the host names and URL components are logically consistent with the original content. If you are concerned that the targeted end-user may open these documents in a non-Microsoft Office application, please take some test documents and evaluate them in the likely application before deploying them.”
Security researches and forensic experts will find more detailed information on how watermarks are applied to documents in the source code, which is included in this publication as a zipped archive.
The classification marks of the User Guide document hint that is was originally written by the british MI5/BTSS and later shared with the CIA. Both agencies collaborated on the further development of the malware and coordinated their work in Joint Development Workshops.
HIVE is a back-end infrastructure malware with a public-facing HTTPS interface which is used by CIA implants to transfer exfiltrated information from target machines to the CIA and to receive commands from its operators to execute specific tasks on the targets. HIVE is used across multiple malware implants and CIA operations. The public HTTPS interface utilizes unsuspicious-looking cover domains to hide its presence.
Anti-Virus companies and forensic experts have noticed that some possible state-actor malware used such kind of back-end infrastructure by analyzing the communication behaviour of these specific implants, but were unable to attribute the back-end (and therefore the implant itself) to operations run by the CIA. In a recent blog post by Symantec, that was able to attribute the “Longhorn” activities to the CIA based on the Vault 7, such back-end infrastructure is described:
The documents from this publication might further enable anti-malware researchers and forensic experts to analyse this kind of communication between malware implants and back-end servers used in previous illegal activities.
Grasshopper is provided with a variety of modules that can be used by a CIA operator as blocks to construct a customized implant that will behave differently, for example maintaining persistence on the computer differently, depending on what particular features or capabilities are selected in the process of building the bundle. Additionally, Grasshopper provides a very flexible language to define rules that are used to “perform a pre-installation survey of the target device, assuring that the payload will only [be] installed if the target has the right configuration”. Through this grammar CIA operators are able to build from very simple to very complex logic used to determine, for example, if the target device is running a specific version of Microsoft Windows, or if a particular Antivirus product is running or not.
Grasshopper allows tools to be installed using a variety of persistence mechanisms and modified using a variety of extensions (like encryption). The requirement list of the Automated Implant Branch (AIB) for Grasshopper puts special attention on PSP avoidance, so that any Personal Security Products like ‘MS Security Essentials’, ‘Rising’, ‘Symantec Endpoint’ or ‘Kaspersky IS’ on target machines do not detect Grasshopper elements.
One of the persistence mechanisms used by the CIA here is ‘Stolen Goods’ – whose “components were taken from malware known as Carberp, a suspected Russian organized crime rootkit.” confirming the recycling of malware found on the Internet by the CIA. “The source of Carberp was published online, and has allowed AED/RDB to easily steal components as needed from the malware.”. While the CIA claims that “[most] of Carberp was not used in Stolen Goods” they do acknowledge that “[the] persistence method, and parts of the installer, were taken and modified to fit our needs”, providing a further example of reuse of portions of publicly available malware by the CIA, as observed in their analysis of leaked material from the italian company “HackingTeam”.
The documents WikiLeaks publishes today provide an insights into the process of building modern espionage tools and insights into how the CIA maintains persistence over infected Microsoft Windows computers, providing directions for those seeking to defend their systems to identify any existing compromise
Marble does this by hiding (“obfuscating”) text fragments used in CIA malware from visual inspection. This is the digital equivallent of a specalized CIA tool to place covers over the english language text on U.S. produced weapons systems before giving them to insurgents secretly backed by the CIA.
Marble forms part of the CIA’s anti-forensics approach and the CIA’s Core Library of malware code. It is “[D]esigned to allow for flexible and easy-to-use obfuscation” as “string obfuscation algorithms (especially those that are unique) are often used to link malware to a specific developer or development shop.”
The Marble source code also includes a deobfuscator to reverse CIA text obfuscation. Combined with the revealed obfuscation techniques, a pattern or signature emerges which can assist forensic investigators attribute previous hacking attacks and viruses to the CIA. Marble was in use at the CIA during 2016. It reached 1.0 in 2015.
The source code shows that Marble has test examples not just in English but also in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Farsi. This would permit a forensic attribution double game, for example by pretending that the spoken language of the malware creator was not American English, but Chinese, but then showing attempts to conceal the use of Chinese, drawing forensic investigators even more strongly to the wrong conclusion, — but there are other possibilities, such as hiding fake error messages.
The Marble Framework is used for obfuscation only and does not contain any vulnerabilties or exploits by itself.
Among others, these documents reveal the “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, as explained by the CIA, is a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting” allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick “even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.
“DarkSeaSkies” is “an implant that persists in the EFI firmware of an Apple MacBook Air computer” and consists of “DarkMatter”, “SeaPea” and “NightSkies”, respectively EFI, kernel-space and user-space implants.
Documents on the “Triton” MacOSX malware, its infector “Dark Mallet” and its EFI-persistent version “DerStarke” are also included in this release. While the DerStarke1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.
Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008.
While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.
- DER SPIEGEL – Germany
- LA REPUBBLICA – Italy
- LIBERATION – France
- MEDIAPART – France
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