Project Sauron has been Spying on Governments for 5 Years
Project Sauron, the sophisticated information exfiltration malware, has been spying on government computers and computers at major organizations for over five years.
According to Comodo, to boot, there is a very real possibility that a government-sponsored group is behind it.
Project Sauron—so-called because of the reference to Sauron, the main antagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in its source code—was first detected reportedly on an unspecified government network last September. And like the evil Tolkien nemesis, it appears to be all-seeing: It can be used to steal passwords, encryption keys, configuration files and log stores, plus it logs key strokes and opens backdoors for hackers to take control of a system or network.
“Subsequent probes revealed that the malware was present in many other networks,” researchers said, in a blog. “Project Sauron has been found in the networks of at least 30 organizations. This includes government networks and strategic ones like the networks of military, financial and telecommunications organizations. Reports say that the malware has been detected in an airline in China, an embassy in Belgium, and an unidentified organization in Sweden.”
Comodo noted that Project Sauron uses a strange executable file that claims to be a Windows password filter. Whenever a user would log on or enter a password, this executable would start up, and unlike usual malware, it appears differently on different systems/networks.
“Project Sauron is a malware that’s almost impossible to detect,” the researchers noted. “The malware doesn’t leave behind tell-tale signs like other malware would and thus it becomes rather difficult to identify other infections. The creators of Project Sauron make sure that no two infections are similar and that no two infected systems create the same software artifacts.”
The malware is also able to disguise itself in many ways, like for example as files with names similar to those published by Microsoft. The method of sending data back to the hacker also is not the same always. This would baffle researchers who are constantly looking for patterns.
But wait, it gets worse: Project Sauron can get through some of the most extensive firewalls too, and can infect systems which are air-gapped or not connected to the internet.
“Here the entry is made possible through specially prepared USB drives, which would appear to be like the usual mass storage devices, but would also contain a hidden partition with a virtual file system, which makes possible the transfer of data from air-gapped systems,” Comodo said, adding that this rather complex attack may be done by making use of some unknown and undiscovered zero-day vulnerability. “[The] zero-day vulnerability angle is just speculation and is yet to be confirmed,” they added.