How “omnipotent” hackers tied to NSA hid for 14 years—and were found at last | Ars Technica

The malicious firmware created a secret storage vault that survived military-grade disk wiping and reformatting, making sensitive data stolen from victims available even after reformatting the drive and reinstalling the operating system. The firmware also provided programming interfaces that other code in Equation Group's sprawling malware library could access. Once a hard drive was compromised, the infection was impossible to detect or remove.

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GrayFish is the crowning achievement of the Equation Group. The malware platform is so complex that Kaspersky researchers still understand only a fraction of its capabilities and inner workings. Key to the sophistication of GrayFish is its bootkit, which allows it to take extraordinarily granular control of the machines it infects.

"This allows it to control the launching of Windows at each stage," Kaspersky's written report explained. "In fact, after infection, the computer is not run by itself anymore: it is GrayFish that runs it step by step, making the necessary changes on the fly."

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After infecting a computer not connected to the Internet, Fanny collected network information and saved it to a hidden area of the USB drive. If the stick was later plugged in to an Internet-computer, it would upload the data to attacker servers and download any attacker commands. If the stick was later plugged into the air-gapped machine, the downloaded commands would be executed. This process would continue each time the stick was switched between air-gapped and Internet-connected machines.

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