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Ramnit Malware Makes a Comeback via Google Play
Ramnit, the once notorious malware that infected 3.2 million computers around the world, has resurfaced via infected apps on Google Play.
Symantec researchers found 92 distinct apps on Google Play with a total of 250,000 downloads laden with Ramnit malware. Some of the Ramnit-infected apps that turned up on Google Play were educational and tutorial apps.
Symantec informed Google of the presence of these infected apps and the company has removed them from the app store. This isn’t the first time that Ramnit-infected apps have turned up on Google Play. In March of this year, more than 100 Ramnit-infected apps were similarly removed from Google Play.
Ramnit first appeared in the wild in 2010. In February 2015, a law enforcement operation led by the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) crippled the operation of the cybercrime group behind Ramnit by shutting down the command and control servers, as well as shutting down and 300 internet domain addresses used by the group. At the time, the group already infected 3.2 million computers in total and defrauding undetermined large number of victims.
The law enforcement operation against the group behind Ramnit was participated by investigators from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. Representatives from the private industry like Symantec and Microsoft were also involved in the law enforcement operation.
Ramnit is a multi-feature cybercrime tool. It compromised a victim in the following manner:
This malware monitors web browsing activities and detects when certain websites like online banking sites are visited. Ramnit can inject itself into the web browser and alter the website of the bank to make it appear that the bank is asking the user additional information like credit card details.
This malware can hijack online banking sessions. Ramnit attackers achieve this by stealing session cookies from web browsers and by using the stolen cookies to impersonate victims to authenticate themselves on websites.
This malware scans computer’s hard drive. It’s configured in such a way to search for specific folders that are considered likely to contain sensitive information like passwords.
This malware can gain remote access – upload, download, or delete files and execute commands – on the victim’s computer in two ways: by connecting to an anonymous FTP server and by Virtual network computing (VNC) module.
Ramnit is a persistent cyber threat. The malware’s creators made sure that once a computer is infected it’ll be difficult to remove the malware from the compromised computer.
Once the malware is installed on the compromised computer, it copies itself to the computer’s memory, hard drive and removable drive. The malware’s version that’s copied to the computer’s memory checks the hard disk-based copy of the malware. If the memory-based copy of the malware detects that the hard disk-based copy has been quarantined or removed, it’ll create another malware copy for the hard disk to sustain the infection.
Microsoft describes Ramnit malware this way: "This malware family steals your sensitive information, such as your bank user names and passwords. It can also give a malicious hacker access and control of your PC, and stop your security software from running."
How Ramnit Spreads
While the latest method of propagation of Ramnit is via Android apps, this doesn’t, however, mean that this malware works with Android devices. Since its appearance in 2010, this malware has always been a threat to computers using Windows as an operating system.
Ramnit won’t run on your Android device even if you’ve the misfortune of downloading a Ramnit-infected app on Google Play. In order for the Windows infection to happen, an Android device loaded with a Ramnit-infected app has to be connected to a Windows computer. Once the malware compromised a Windows computer, it searches for all exe, .dll, .htm, and .html files on any removable drives like USB drive and the local hard disk and infects them by making copies of itself.
“The HTML file infection process uses two tactics: injecting VBScript code into an HTML page that drops and executes the worm, and also injecting a hidden iframe into HTML files that downloads a remote file if the page is opened in a browser,” Symantec said.
Ramnit malware is one of the reasons why it’s unsafe to use or borrow removable drive or USB flash drive of another. You never know, this USB drive may be laden with the Ramnit malware.
In addition to propagating the malware through infected apps and through infected removable drives, Ramnit attackers also spread the malware through malicious emails and exploit kits served through malicious advertisements on social media pages and websites. Public FTP servers are also used by Ramnit attackers to distribute the malware. The Europol considers Ramnit as a botnet.
“This botnet – a term used to describe a network of infected computers - was used by the criminals running it to gain remote access and control of the infected computers, enabling them to steal personal and banking information, namely passwords, and disable antivirus protection,” Europol said. “This malware, infecting users running Windows operating systems, explored different infection vectors such as links contained in spam emails or by visiting infected websites.”
"Despite the setback many years ago, Ramnit’s operators have not completely gone away and there also seem to be many latent infections worldwide,” Symantec said. “We know that Google has a system in place for vetting uploaded apps, but we don’t have visibility into the processes for vetting submitted apps, so we can’t say for sure why these infected apps are getting through the vetting process.”
How to Prevent Ramnit Attacks
According to Microsoft, Windows Defender Antivirus detects and removes Ramnit malware.
Here are additional tips for preventing Ramnit attacks:
Why Mobile App Vulnerabilities are Dangerous for a Business
Ninety-nine percent of the business workforce currently uses mobile devices to perform their jobs, this according to the IBM-sponsored 2016 Mobile Security & Business Transformation Study.
While this reliance on mobile devices brings enhanced productivity and other business benefits, it also comes with a greater number of security risks.
According to Statista, there were 1.86 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2015. This number is expected to grow to 2.32 billion in 2017. In the smartphone operating system (OS) market, Gartner reported that the battle is clearly between Android (an OS developed by Google) and iOS (an OS developed by Apple). For the first quarter of 2017, Gartner reported that 86.1% of the smartphones sold worldwide runs on Android, 13.7% runs on iOS, and 0.2% runs on other OS.
The Malicious Apps Issue
One of the security risks of using a mobile device at work is the malicious app. There’s an app – short for application program – for almost everything today. As of March 2017, according to Statista, 2.8 million apps can be downloaded from Google Play and 2.2 million apps from Apple App Store.
While Google and Apple have strong security measures in preventing malicious apps from being part of their app stores, some of these malicious apps still slip right through the security nets of these app stores. In the first quarter of 2017, security firm G DATA discovered over 750,000 malicious apps in Android mobile devices.
McAfee in its 2016 Mobile Threat Report said that in 2015, thousands of apps were pulled out from both Google Play and the Apple App Store for security reasons. “Both Google and Apple have been very quick to remove malicious apps from their associated app stores, however it’s inevitable that some infected apps will still slip through the screening process,” McAfee said.
Business risks after your phone is hacked
Once your phone is hacked, your business data is at risk of being exploited by cyber criminals. Here are 2 ways that put business data at risk after your phone is hacked:
1. Ransomware Attack
Ransomware – a type of software that’s programmed to block users until a sum of money is paid – is often associated with PCs. The reality is ransomware isn’t just a PC problem anymore.
In January 2017, security firm Check Point discovered the ransomware called “Charger”. This ransomware was hidden inside an app called EnergyRescue – a malicious app that was briefly available on Google Play and attacked Android devices before being pulled. The Charger ransomware demanded 0.2 Bitcoins (worth $180) from the affected mobile device users and warned that personal information would be sold on the black market if the ransom was not paid.
The ransomware locks the mobile device and displays the following message:
“You need to pay for us, otherwise we will sell portion of your personal information on black market every 30 minutes. WE GIVE 100% GUARANTEE THAT ALL FILES WILL RESTORE AFTER WE RECEIVE PAYMENT. WE WILL UNLOCK THE MOBILE DEVICE AND DELETE ALL YOUR DATA FROM OUR SERVER! TURNING OFF YOUR PHONE IS MEANINGLESS, ALL YOUR DATA IS ALREADY STORED ON OUR SERVERS! WE STILL CAN SELLING IT FOR SPAM, FAKE, BANK CRIME etc… We collect and download all of your personal data. All information about your social networks, Bank accounts, Credit Cards. We collect all data about your friends and family.”
The Charger ransomware demonstrates how a malicious app can be a dangerous threat to your business.
2. Danger of Dead Apps
A dead app is an application that’s removed from the app store, without notice. It also refers to an application that’s abandoned by the developer, also without notice. Like other defective products, applications that are removed from the app stores and those abandoned by developers need recall notices.
McAfee identified over 4,000 apps that were removed in 2015 from Google Play without notification to users. McAfee’s 2016 Mobile Threat Report revealed that 500,000 mobile devices still have these dead apps installed and are active. “These users, and the organizations they work for, are still exposed to any vulnerabilities, privacy risks, or malware contained in these dead apps,” McAfee said.
Malicious Apps Prevention
Here are some of the ways to keep your business mobile device safe from malicious apps:
1. Pay close attention to the apps that you’re downloading.
A 3.5 rating for an app on Google Play or Apple App Store isn’t enough in evaluating an app. For instance, sometime before Google Play pulled from its app store, EnergyRescue app – hidden with it was the Charger ransomware – had a 3.6 review rate from 11,584 users. Before downloading an app from known app store such as Google Play and Apple App Store, conduct thorough research about the app developer first.
2. Delete apps that are no longer on the app store.
Apps that are deleted on any app store are vulnerable to cyber criminals as they may have been removed from the app for security reasons or the developer abandoned the app, leaving it without patches or security updates.
To keep the data in your business mobile phone secure and private, it’s a good practice to keep your mobile operating system and the apps up to date. Most of the malicious apps can be blocked by simply updating your mobile operating system. Legitimate app developers also issue patches or security updates.
Skycure’s Mobile Threat Intelligence Report for the 4th Quarter of 2016 showed that the majority of malicious app exploits relies on the existence of unpatched vulnerabilities in the mobile operating systems to be successful. In analyzing the adoption of Android security patches among the five leading wireless carriers in the United States, Skycure found that 71% of Android mobile devices in the 4th Quarter of 2016 were running on security patches that were at least 2 months old, leaving millions unnecessarily vulnerable to malicious app breach.
“About half of devices in use at the end of 2016 had not received a platform security update in the previous year,” said Google in its 2016 Year in Review report.
Pro tip: Administrators, restrict employee access to freely download apps without evaluation and IT approval to prevent device infection and a potential data breach.
Steve E. Driz