A malspam campaign utilizing a readily available malware known as DarkGate has been brought to light. Cybersecurity researchers suggest that the increase in DarkGate malware activity is likely due to the malware developer's recent decision to offer it for rent to a select group of cybercriminal partners. This threat's deployment has also been associated with a large-scale campaign that exploits compromised email threads to deceive recipients into unknowingly downloading the malware.
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The DarkGate Malware is Delivered via a Multi-stage Attack Process
The attack initiates by luring the victim to a phishing URL, which, upon being clicked, goes through a traffic direction system (TDS). The goal is to direct the unsuspecting victims to an MSI payload under certain specific conditions. One of these conditions is the presence of a refresh header in the HTTP response.
Upon opening the MSI file, a multi-stage process is triggered. This process involves utilizing an AutoIt script to execute shellcode, which serves as a means to decrypt and launch the DarkGate threat via a crypter or loader. To be more precise, the loader is programmed to analyze the AutoIt script and extract the encrypted payload from it.
An alternative version of these attacks has also been observed. Instead of an MSI file, a Visual Basic Script is employed, which uses cURL to retrieve both the AutoIt executable and the script file. The exact method used to deliver the VB Script remains currently unknown.
DarkGate Can Perform Numerous Harmful Actions on the Breached Devices
DarkGate boasts a range of capabilities that allow it to evade detection by security software, establish persistence through Windows Registry modifications, elevate privileges, and pilfer data from web browsers and software platforms like Discord and FileZilla.
Furthermore, it establishes communication with a Command-and-Control (C2) server, enabling actions such as file enumeration, data extraction, initiation of cryptocurrency mining operations, remote screenshot capture, and execution of various commands.
This threat is primarily marketed on underground forums under a subscription model. The offered price points vary, ranging from $1,000 per day to $15,000 per month and even up to $100,000 annually. The malware's creator promotes it as the "ultimate tool for pen-testers/red-teamers," highlighting its exclusive features supposedly not found anywhere else. Interestingly, cybersecurity researchers have discovered earlier iterations of DarkGate that also included a ransomware module.
Don’t Fall for the Tricks Used in Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks are a primary delivery pathway for a variety of malware threats, including stealers, trojans, and malware loaders. Recognizing such phishing attempts is crucial to remain safe and not expose your devices to any dangerous security or privacy risks. Here are some typical red flags to be aware of:
- Suspicious Sender Address: Check the sender's email address carefully. Be cautious if it contains misspellings, extra characters, or doesn't match the official domain of the organization it claims to be from.
- Unspecified Greetings: Phishing emails often use generic greetings like 'Dear User' instead of addressing you by your name. Legitimate organizations typically personalize their communication.
- Urgent or Threatening Language: Phishing emails tend to create a sense of urgency or fear to prompt immediate action. They may claim your account is suspended, or you'll face consequences unless you act quickly.
- Unusual Requests for Personal Information: Be cautious of emails asking for sensitive information like passwords, Social Security numbers, or credit card details. Legitimate organizations won't ask for such information via email.
- Unusual Attachments: Don't open attachments from unknown senders. They could contain malware. Even if the attachment seems familiar, be cautious if it's unexpected or urges you to take immediate action.
- Too Good to Be True Offers: Phishing emails might promise unbelievable rewards, prizes, or offers that are intended to lure you into clicking on malicious links or providing personal information.
- Unexpected Links: Be cautious of emails that unexpectedly contain links. Instead of clicking, manually type the official website's address into your browser.
- Emotional Manipulation: Phishing emails may try to evoke emotions like curiosity, sympathy, or excitement to get you to access links or download attachments.
- Lack of Contact Information: Legitimate organizations usually provide contact information. If an email lacks this information or provides only a generic email address, be cautious.
Staying vigilant and educating yourself about these red flags can go a long way in protecting yourself from phishing attempts. If you receive an email that raises suspicions, it's better to verify its legitimacy through official channels before taking any action.