Just a few days ago our research lead came accross an interesting office file. Instead of the common macro malware everyone sees today (which is as old as the 90's, albeit still successful), the sample we were looking at was using an interesting way to bypass automated detection: the Office file contained an additional embedded file, which needs to be launched "manually" (double-click) and at first sight of the icon seemed to be an Excel sheet.
As the "follow the instructions" type of prompts are usually a dead give-away for malware (amazing that these things still work), we decided to take take a deeper look and see if we might possibly learn a lesson and improve our own automated malware analysis system. What made the file even more interesting is that it was bypassing all major sandbox vendors (including our own, to be fair) and had a very low AV detection rate. Nevertheless, it did have AV detection, which - by the way - is a strong statement in our opinion and underlines that leading AV technology is still very important, at the very minimum as an initial filtering mechanism.
... but enough of the ramblings, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. ;-)
As a first (manual) step, we took a brief look at the Word file structure.
The embedded 'oleObject1.bin' file is the 'Excel file' that one can observe when opening the Word file (see first screenshot of this blogpost). Let's take a brief look at it:
Obviously, the embedded JSE is very difficult to parse statically and does a good job at hiding IOCs. The random dictionairy comment (see the "/* */" in the above image that encapsulate a large chunk of white noise, most likely to create an acceptable valid vs. junk character ratio to bypass heuristic AV thresholds).
Improved Sandbox Results
Let's skip forward two days and take a look at our optimized VxStream Sandbox report for the file. As of v4.4.0, we successfully extract embedded .jse/.vbe files from Office files and execute them on the target system as well as decode them automatically and try to extract IOCs from the decoded (and partially deobfuscated) version of the script(s). Here are the results:
Launching the embedded JSE on the Windows guest
Decoded JSE available for D/L
Taking a peek into the decoded JSE
Extracting the IOC from the "IP address" Behavior Indicator
The file we reviewed in this blogpost demonstrates that malware groups are very agile and remain 'creative' at bypassing security systems, especially automated sandbox systems. This underlines the importance of having an agile sandbox framework to quickly adapt to new techniques, but also shows that awareness of sandbox systems is growing. In this specific case, a clever mix of social engineering tricks (the fake 'Excel sheet' icon), added white noise (the legitimate string data) and an uncommon trigger (human interaction required to double-click the embedded file; no usage of macros) as well as the more hideous JSE was observed. It is a prime example to show that it is not enough to simply execute a file in a sandbox environment. Instead, at the very minimum, a carefully crafted mixture of static and dynamic analysis techniques is necessary to stay on par with latest malware evolution. A broad term we defined at Payload Security for the combination of static and dynamic analysis techniques is Hybrid Analysis.
(1) VxStream Sandbox Report: https://www.hybrid-analysis.com/sample/4fd53f748006c7f7729cd3360ec8a9a50740e253cb2583f5330fd5e35b64cb04?environmentId=100
(2) Dropped Gozi Report: https://www.hybrid-analysis.com/sample/d945dcd6e3c1e3bff7536d5cf099780d9fdc7ad9efa31752e7b287dce66b194b?environmentId=100
We were made aware of the following excellent blogpost that outlines a quite similar attack, but instead of using an embedded JSE camouflaged as an Excel sheet, a batch file launching Powershell with a Base64 encoded "dropper commandline" was observed. We filled our coffee cups and made a small night session to accomodate for any kind of embedded file type. Here are some impressions:
Targetted Powershell Attack
Improved VxStream Sandbox Report
(3) VxStream Sandbox Report: https://www.hybrid-analysis.com/sample/831f8bb592de20929e171ad951f33ad697bcb79f122061f7a450106219733eb7?environmentId=100