APTualizator (II): Deconstructing Necurs Rootkit and Tools for Detecting and Removing It

ElevenPaths    18 February, 2020

This report has been drafted by Roberto Santos and Javier Rascón from the CSIRT-SCC (Security Cyberoperations Center) Research Team, in collaboration with ElevenPaths. 

At the end of June 2019, a big Spanish company was attacked and thousands of their computers were impacted. Such was the size of the attack that we were motivated to begin this investigation. In July 2019, we wrote an article on this issue: APTualizador (I)

At that time we were struck because in a first quick analysis we observed that the sample downloaded the legitimate Windows security update KB3033929, although it did so from an unofficial server. In other words: it installed the legitimate file (signed by Microsoft) from an unofficial server. 

This second report will be focused on the technical aspects of the rootkit found. 

As a result of the investigation we identified this rootkit as a development of Necurs. This botnet (appeared in 2012) is one of the most persistent and largest in the world and it is estimated that it is made up of 6 million zombie computers −target computers around the world and controlled by attackers remotely. 

This report will consider in depth and from a technical perspective how malware manages to hide in the computer, analyzing the tools used and the code that controls this behavior. On the other hand, the communication protocol used is also analyzed. This has been modified since the first versions and IOCTL commands are no longer used. Instead, it is now based on reading / writing on Windows registry, turning the registry into a local covert channel. 

Our investigation ends with the release of two tools, NeCure and NeCsists, that allow detecting malware and disinfecting the machine. These tools have been developed after finding the means to exploit the techniques used by the attackers themselves, thanks to the study and analysis using reverse engineering techniques. 

Through this report, we have helped update the state of the art on the evolution of one of the most sophisticated rootkits so far. 

Conclusions and findings: 

  • An updated list including all functional commands that the rootkit may receive has been drawn. So far, only a very small number of them were known but if there were full lists, they were not updated. 
  • We have been able to develop tools that allow detection and disinfection. In addition, we make publicly available both this analysis and its source code. 
  • We show how Necurs has evolved into a business model of the type Malware as a Service that serves as an input vector for another malware and offers this service to other actors. Only this explains the existence of the keys that set a deadline and a maximum number of malware executions. 
  • Thanks to the comparison between blacklists (list of processes against which the rootkit protects itself) from previous and current versions, an active investigation work performed by attackers on the state of the art of antimalware solutions is drawn. 

Full report available here:

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