Regin is groundbreaking malware on par with Stuxnet, Symantec says

Its sophistication implies it was written by a national government

Regin, a complex and stealthy piece of espionage malware, steals passwords, logs keystrokes and can read, write, move and copy files, among other malicious activity, and has stunned the Symantec researchers that detailed it in a report.

“In the world of malware threats, only a few rare examples can truly be considered groundbreaking and almost peerless,” according to Symantec’s report on the threat. “What we have seen in Regin is just such a class of malware.”

It’s been around since at least 2008, required “a significant investment of time and resources,” and the implication is that it was written by a country. It seems focused mainly on Russian and Saudi Arabian machines.

“Threats of this nature are rare and are only comparable to the Stuxnet/Duqu family of malware,” the report says. “The discovery of Regin serves to highlight how significant investments continue to be made into the development.”

Diagram of regin malware

Stuxnet and its variant Duqu are widely believed to have been a collaboration of the U.S. and Israel.

Of all the confirmed infections, 28% were found in Russia, 24% in Saudi Arabia and 9% each in Ireland and Mexico. None were found in the U.S.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research office for F-Secure, says he’s known about Regin for six years. “Our belief is that this malware, for a change, isn't coming from Russia or China.”

Those infections hit telecom backbones the hardest (28%) followed by hospitality (9%) and energy, airlines and research, each with 5%. The largest category of infected groups was private individuals and small businesses (48%). “Some of Regin’s custom payloads point to a high level of specialist knowledge in particular sectors, such as telecoms infrastructure software, on the part of the developers,” the report says.

The malware is highly modular and can be fitted on the fly with code to recover deleted files, log keystrokes, capture screenshots, steal logs and even skip over Russian or English files as it scans, Symantec says. This modular approach has been used in other high-profile malware including Falmer and Weevil.

One module monitors network traffic to Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) web servers, one collects administration traffic for mobile base station controllers, and another analyzes mail from Exchange databases, according to Symantec. The malware’s command and control infrastructure is fully encrypted and communications can be initiated either by the C&C server or the malware on infected hosts.

Its standard features include screen captures, commandeering mouse function and monitoring network traffic. Often stolen data is not written to disk in order to hide what it has compromised, the report says.

The report concludes that Regin is used to collect data and monitor groups and individuals on an ongoing basis.

Symantec has identified two distinct versions of Regin, but hasn’t been able to identify a reproducible infection vector, although it speculates infected Web sites may download it through Web browser exploits or by exploiting applications. On one computer, log files show that Regin originated from Yahoo Instant Messenger through an unconfirmed Exploit,” the report says.

Symantec says it started investigating Regin last fall. “The level of sophistication and complexity of Regin suggests that the development of this threat could have taken well-resourced teams of developers many months or years to develop and maintain,” Symantec says.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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