Shylock polymorphic financial malware infections on the rise

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Trusteer comments: Last September we blogged about a new polymorphic financial malware variant we had discovered. We codenamed it Shylock because every new build bundles random excerpts from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in its binary. These are designed to change the malware's file signature to avoid detection by anti-virus programs.

"In recent weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of end user machines infected with Shylock," said Trusteer's CTO Amit Klein. "One of this malware's distinguishing characteristics is its ability to almost completely avoid detection by Anti-Virus scanners after installation. Shylock uses a unique three step process to evade scanners."

Step 1: Hides in Memory
Shylock injects itself into all running processes (applications) in memory. Every time a new application is initialized, Shylock suspends the application from running in memory, injects itself into the application process and then allows the application to proceed with its normal execution. Once installed, Shylock code doesn't run as a separate process, rather it embeds itself within every genuine application running on a machine. This makes it very hard to detect. Moreover, even if Shylock is detected, the fact that it is embedded in multiple running applications makes it almost impossible to stop and remove from memory.

Step 2: Watchdog Senses Scans
Shylock looks for and intercepts operations related to directory browsing and enumeration of registry keys, which indicate an anti-virus scanning operation is underway. Once it detects "scanning" activity, Shylock deletes its own files and registry entries making it undetectable. It remains active only in memory.

Step 3: Hijacks Windows' Shutdown
Entries in the operating system registry allow malware (like any application/process) to execute its files as part of the startup processes. Once Shylock has removed its files and registry entries to avoid being detected by an anti-virus scan, it cannot survive a system shutdown/reboot.  Any of these actions, would remove it from memory and eliminate the infection. To ensure its survival, Shylock hooks into the Windows shutdown procedure and reinstates the files and registry keys (previously removed in step 2) just before the system is completely shut down and after all other applications are closed (including anti-virus). We have found that physically unplugging the machine's power source (assuming it does not have an internal battery), after Shylock has deleted its files and registry entries to evade detection, will clean the memory and also the Shylock infection. Needless to say we do not recommend this as a malware removal practice!

"Machines running Trusteer Rapport are not vulnerable to this attack, since Rapport detects Crime Logic associated with Shylock and uses its multiple defense layers to disable the malware," concluded Klein


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