Google researchers elaborate on advanced hacking operations that exploit vulnerabilities in Chrome and Windows to install malware on Android and Windows devices.
Some exploits were zero-day attacks. That is, it targeted vulnerabilities that were unknown to Google, Microsoft, and most outside researchers at the time (both companies have since patched security flaws). Hackers have delivered exploits through watering hole attacks. The attack compromises sites that are frequently used by targeted targets and ties the site with code that installs malware on the visitor’s device. The boobytrapped site utilized two exploit servers. One is for Windows users and the other is for Android users.
Not your average hacker
Zero-day attacks and the use of complex infrastructure are not a sign of sophistication, but they show above-average skills by a team of hacker experts. Combined with the robustness of the attack code, which efficiently chains multiple exploits, it shows that the campaign was run by a very sophisticated actor.
Researchers on the Googles Project Zero Exploit Research Team write that these exploit chains are designed to provide efficiency and flexibility through modularity. These are well-designed and complex code with a variety of new exploit techniques, mature logging, highly calculated post-exploit techniques, and extensive anti-analysis and targeting checks. We believe that a team of experts designed and developed these exploit chains.
The modularity of the payload, the interchangeable exploit chain, and the logging, targeting, and maturity of operations also highlight the campaign, researchers say.
The four zero-days that have been abused are:
Attackers have exploited Chrome’s zero-day attacks and recently patched Chrome vulnerabilities to allow remote code execution. All zero days were used for Windows users. None of the attack chains targeting Android devices exploited zero-day attacks, but Project Zero researchers said attackers could be free to use Android zero-day attacks.
The following figure provides a visual overview of the campaigns that took place in the first quarter of last year.
In total, Project Zero has published six articles detailing the exploits and post-exploit payloads discovered by researchers. The rest of the story outlines Chrome’s endless bugs, Chrome exploits, Android exploits, Android post-exploit payloads, and Windows exploits.
The purpose of this series is to help the entire security community to more effectively combat complex malware operations. Researchers at Project Zero hope that this series of blog posts will provide others with a detailed look at exploitation from mature, perhaps well-resourced actors in the real world.
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