Duqu Trojan contains unknown programming language

The Duqu torjan has researchers puzzled as it contains a programming language they've never seen before

In June 2010, the world became aware of Stuxnet, largely considered to be the most advanced and dangerous piece of malware ever created. But before you run to check that your antivirus software is up to date, note that Stuxnet, largely believed to be state-created, was created with one singular purpose in mind - to cripple Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons.

When security researches began studying Stuxnet more closely, they were astonished at its level of sophistication. Stuxnet's ultimate aim, researches found, was to target specialized Siemens industrial software and equipment employed in Iran's Nuclear research facilities. The original Stuxnet virus was able to deftly inject code into the Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) of the aforementioned Siemens industrial control systems.

The end result, according to foreign reports, is that Stuxnet was able to infiltrate an Iranian uranium enrichment facility and subsequently destroy over 1,000 centrifuges, albeit in a subtle manner as to avoid detection from Iranian nuclear scientists.

In the wake of Stuxnet, researchers weren't shy about proclaiming that new era of sophisticated malware was upon us.

This past September, a new variant of Stuxnet was discovered. It's called Duqu and security experts believe it was developed in conjunction with Stuxnet by the same development team. After studying the software, security firm Symantec said that the Duqu virus was almost identical to Stuxnet, yet with a "completely different purpose."

The reported goal of the Duqu virus wasn't to sabotage but rather to acquire information.

A research report from Symantec this past October explained,

Duqu is essentially the precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack. The threat was written by the same authors (or those that have access to the Stuxnet source code) and appears to have been created since the last Stuxnet file was recovered. Duqu's purpose is to gather intelligence data and assets from entities, such as industrial control system manufacturers, in order to more easily conduct a future attack against another third party. The attackers are looking for information such as design documents that could help them mount a future attack on an industrial control facility.

And just when you thought the whole Stuxnet/Duqu trojan saga couldn't get any crazier, a security firm who has been analyzing Duqu writes that it employs a programming language that they've never seen before.

Security researchers at Kapersky Lab found the "payload DLL" of Duqu is comprised of code from an unrecognizable programming language. While many parts of the Trojan are written in C++, other portions contain syntax that security researchers can't pin back to a recognizable programming language.

After analyzing the code, researchers at Kapersky were able to conclude the following:

  • The Duqu Framework appears to have been written in an unknown programming language.
  • Unlike the rest of the Duqu body, it's not C++ and it's not compiled with Microsoft's Visual C++ 2008.
  • The highly event driven architecture points to code which was designed to be used in pretty much any kind of conditions, including asynchronous commutations.
  • Given the size of the Duqu project, it is possible that another team was responsible for the framework than the team which created the drivers and wrote the system infection and exploits.
  • The mysterious programming language is definitively NOT C++, Objective C, Java, Python, Ada, Lua and many other languages we have checked.
  • Compared to Stuxnet (entirely written in MSVC++), this is one of the defining particularities of the Duqu framework.

Consequently, Kapersky decided to reach out to the programming community to help them figure out which programming language the Duqu Framework employs. As of Sunday evening, nothing conclusive has been found, but a comment on Kapersky's blog post might prove useful.

The code your referring to .. the unknown c++ looks like the older IBM compilers found in OS400 SYS38 and the oldest sys36.The C++ code was used to write the tcp/ip stack for the operating system and all of the communications. The protocols used were the following x.21(async) all modes, Sync SDLC, x.25 Vbiss5 10 15 and 25. CICS. RSR232. This was a very small and powerful communications framework. The IBM system 36 had only 300MB hard drive and one megabyte of memory,the operating system came on diskettes.This would be very useful in this virus. It can track and monitor all types of communications. It can connect to everything and anything.

While many other suggestions via the comment section were  dismissed by Kapersky lab expert Igor Soumenkov, the one above netted a "Thank you!"

Another tip that Soumenkov seemed excited about identifies the unknown language as Simple Object Orientation (for C), but not without some reservations.

SOO may be the correct answer! But there are still two things to figure out:

1) When was SOO C created? I see Oct 2010 in git - that's too late, Duqu was already out there.

2) If SOO is the toolkit, then event driven model was created by the authors of Duqu. Given the size of framework-based code, they should have spent 1+ year making all things work correctly.


It turns out that almost the same code can be produced by the MSVC compiler for a "hand-made" C class. This means that a custom OO C framework is the most probable answer to our question.

We kept this (OO C) version as a "worst-case" explanation - because that would mean that the amout of time and effort invested in development of the Framework is enormous compared to other languages/toolkits.

Note that work on Duqu, according to researchers, began sometime in 2007. And as for the enormous amount of work Soumenkov refers to, remember that most researchers believe Stuxnet and its bretheren were created by state actors. Many believe Israel and the United States may have worked together on the project to stymie Iran's nuclear weapons plans. Others believe Stuxnet may be the handiwork of China.

via SecureList

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)