Exploit Packs Run on Java Juice

In October, I showed why Java vulnerabilities continue to be the top moneymaker for purveyors of “exploit kits,” commercial crimeware designed to be stitched into hacked or malicious sites and exploit a variety of Web-browser vulnerabilities. Today, I’ll highlight a few more recent examples of this with brand new exploit kits on the market, and explain why even fully-patched Java installations are fast becoming major enablers of browser-based malware attacks.

Check out the screenshots below, which show the administration page for two up-and-coming exploit packs. The first, from an unusually elaborate exploit kit called “Dragon Pack,” is the author’s own installation, so the percentage of “loads” or successful installations of malware on visitor PCs should be taken with a grain of salt (hat tip to Malwaredomainlist.com). Yet, it is clear that miscreants who purchase this pack will have the most success with Java flaws.

This blog has a nice writeup — and an additional stats page — from a compromised site that last month was redirecting visitors to a page laced with exploits from a Dragon Pack installation.

The second image, below, shows an administrative page that is centralizing statistics for several sites hacked with a relatively new $200 kit called “Bleeding Life.” Again, it’s plain that the Java exploits are the most successful. What’s interesting about this kit is that its authors advertise that one of the “exploits” included isn’t really an exploit at all: It’s a social engineering attack. Specifically, the hacked page will simply abuse built-in Java functionality to ask the visitor to run a malicious Java applet.

On Dec. 29, the SANS Internet Storm Center warned about a wave of Java attacks that were apparently using this social engineering approach to great effect. The attacks were taking advantage of built-in Java functionality that will prompt the user to download and run a file, but using an alert from Java (if a Windows user accepts, he or she is not bothered by a separate prompt or warning from the operating system).

“If you don’t have any zero-days, you can always go back to exploiting the human!” SANS incident handler Daniel Wesemann wrote. “This is independent of the JRE version used – with JRE default settings, even on JRE1.6-23, all the user has to do is click ‘Run’ to get owned.  The one small improvement is that the latest JREs show ‘Publisher: (NOT VERIFIED) Java Sun’ in the pop-up, but I guess that users who read past the two exclamation marks will be bound to click ‘Run’ anyway.”

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab also have tracked a sizable uptick in attacks leveraging social engineering via Java. Vyacheslav Zakorzhevsky, a senior malware analyst at the Russian security firm, covered this trend in the company’s December 2010 monthly malware statistics report.

In our November review we wrote about the explosive growth of the Trojan-Downloader.Java.OpenConnection family. These programs act in just the same way as exploits do in the latter stages of a drive-by attack, but instead of using vulnerabilities to download malware to victims’ computers, they employ the OpenConnection method of a URL class.”

Two representatives of Trojan-Downloader.Java.OpenConnection (2nd and 7th places) were among the Top 20 malicious programs detected on the Internet in December. At the height of their activity the number of computers on which these programs were detected in a 24-hour period exceeded 40,000.”

As we just mentioned, all the representatives of the Trojan-Downloader.Java.OpenConnection family, instead of exploiting vulnerabilities, use standard Java functionality to download and run files from the web. This is currently one of the prime download methods for malicious programs written in Java. It appears that until Oracle closes the functionality this family uses to download files its popularity will continue to grow.

The graphic below shows the number computers that Kaspersky found were infected with Trojan-Downloader.Java.OpenConnection in the last six weeks of 2010.

I’m not advocating mass abandonment of Java, as some readers have charged. But I continue to urge users who have no reason to use this program to get rid of it, particularly on systems that are shared by less careful Web surfers. I have Java installed on a couple of my PCs where a particular software program requires it to run properly, but I have disconnected the Java plugins from the browsers on those systems.

If you’re a Firefox user and a Web site you frequent requires Java, consider installing and using the excellent NoScript extension, which will block Web sites from running Java applets unless you specifically whitelist them.

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