IBM X-Force researchers recently identified new infection campaigns delivering distinct Zeus Sphinx Trojan variants to online banking users in Canada and Australia. This is the first time our researchers have observed Sphinx campaigns with dedicated configurations targeting financial institutions in either of the two countries. We believe they are part of ongoing testing by Sphinx operators.

Sphinx has been keeping low levels of activity since August 2016, when it was detected in attacks on Brazilian banks. The malware authors have been making small, incremental upgrades to the code.

The recent configurations targeting online banking consumers in Canada and Australia are used sparingly in what looks like low-volume testing, not full-blown infection campaigns. The malware’s operators appear to be looking very carefully to determine which geographies offer the paths of least resistance.

Zeus Sphinx Targets Banks in Canada and Australia

In Canada, Sphinx’s operators included URLs for over 33 financial institutes. They focused their target list on credit unions, likely seeing them as the lower hanging fruit in the Canadian financial sector. The malware’s targets are consumer accounts.

Figure 1: Sphinx’s Canadian target distribution per entity type (Source: IBM X-Force)

The Canada-focused Sphinx operators are most likely familiar with the cybercrime arena. According to our research team, they used the same attack servers that facilitated the Zeus Citadel and Ramnit attacks in early 2016 and the fourth quarter of 2016, respectively. The webinjections share familiar code patterns with other banking Trojans, indicating that the attackers likely bought them from an injection-writing service.

Familiar Tricks

In their recent campaigns, Sphinx’s operators have been using two distribution methods to spread the malware to new victims: email messages containing malicious Word documents that launch a visual basic for applications (VBA) loader and malvertising schemes designed to spread the Sundown exploit kit (EK).

The use of the Sundown EK provides further evidence that Sphinx’s operators may be linked to other commercial malware operators. Sundown has been evolving since the fourth quarter of 2016, from a relatively small, second-tier kit into one of the most prominent EKs in circulation. It includes older exploits for Internet Explorer, Flash and Silverlight. It has been previously connected with other banking Trojans such as Kronos and with previous malware campaigns in Canada.

In Australia, the configuration targets a mix of 40 major banks, credit unions and payment providers. That configuration also targets some banks based in the U.S.

Figure 2: Sphinx’s Australia-focused target distribution per geo (Source: IBM X-Force)

IBM X-Force research reported past Sphinx campaigns launched against Brazilian banks in 2015 and U.K. banks in 2016.

Financial Malware: A Global Perspective

From a global perspective, Sphinx is counted as part of the overall Zeus family of Trojans, since it is almost entirely based on the leaked Zeus v2.0.8.9 source code.

With multiple Zeus variations such as Panda, Sphinx and Floki Bot active in the wild, Zeus’s codebase maintains the top position as the most active banking Trojan family. Different variants are operated by numerous cybercrime factions worldwide.

Figure 3: Most prevalent financial malware families 2017 YTD (Source: IBM X-Force)

Relevant IoCs

IBM X-Force shares Zeus Sphinx indicators of compromise (IoCs) on IBM X-Force Exchange. Just type “Zeus Sphinx” into the search bar to find all related collections on this malware.

Your team can anonymously add to Zeus Sphinx collections by sharing additional IoCs on X-Force Exchange. This ultimately helps information security professionals fight cybercrime threats in closer to real time, cutting malware’s lifelines.

To share and follow Zeus Sphinx IoCs, check out the dedicated collection on X-Force Exchange.

Dropper MD5

  • 33DAE99769B84EFCE58C6EBD0B5C8626

Sample MD5

Sample MD5 hashes are:

  • C5ADC8EC369941CDF3DFC6B4E8BC799C
  • 7B83DFCC671C5210F5A8A1D6552BADE4
  • 57B083B80CE77D6F1AE37F59BD28B4B2

Mitigating Zeus Sphinx Attacks

Banks wishing to protect their customers from evolving threats and cybercrime modus operandi are invited to learn more about IBM Trusteer Advanced Fraud Protection.

Individuals can reference our tips page for ways to protect themselves from malware such as Zeus Sphinx and other banking Trojans.

Read the white paper: How to outsmart Fraudsters with Cognitive Fraud Detection

More from Banking & Finance

How to Spot a Nefarious Cryptocurrency Platform

Do you ever wonder if your cryptocurrency platform cashes in ransomware payments? Maybe not, but it might be worth investigating. Bitcoin-associated ransomware continues to plague companies, government agencies and individuals with no signs of letting up. And if your platform gets sanctioned, you may instantly lose access to all your funds. What exchanges or platforms do criminals use to cash out or launder ransomware payments? And what implications does this have for people who use exchanges legitimately? Blacklisted Exchanges and Mixers…

Kronos Malware Reemerges with Increased Functionality

The Evolution of Kronos Malware The Kronos malware is believed to have originated from the leaked source code of the Zeus malware, which was sold on the Russian underground in 2011. Kronos continued to evolve and a new variant of Kronos emerged in 2014 and was reportedly sold on the darknet for approximately $7,000. Kronos is typically used to download other malware and has historically been used by threat actors to deliver different types of malware to victims. After remaining…

Why Cybersecurity Risk Assessment Matters in the Banking Industry

When customers put money in a bank, they need to trust it will stay there. Because of the high stakes involved for the customer, such as financial loss, and how long it takes to resolve fraud and potential identity theft, customers are sensitive to the security of the bank as well as fraud prevention measures. Banks that experience high volumes of fraud are likely to lose customers and revenue. The key is to protect customers and their accounts before problems…

Cost of a Data Breach: Banking and Finance

The importance of cybersecurity has touched almost every industry. Beyond that, robust cybersecurity is table stakes for several sectors, particularly health care and the banking and finance industry. Not only is financial data at risk, but so is customer trust. In banking and finance, trust means everything. Yet, consumers are hesitant to share their confidential data. A recent McKinsey survey revealed that no industry achieved a trust rating of 50% for data protection. Here’s the most sobering stat: 87% of…