Proof of Compromise? New Neutrino Exploit Runs on Research

July 18, 2016 @ 2:01 PM
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2 min read

With Angler and Nuclear seemingly out of business, many companies were hoping for a slower-than-usual security summer. But according to SecurityWeek, a new proof of concept (PoC) for a previously patched Internet Explorer vulnerability has made its way into the Neutrino exploit kit, giving cybercriminals another avenue of attack. Has security research stepped into risky territory?

Big Money for the Neutrino Exploit

As noted by SC Magazine, with Nuclear and Angler out of the picture — likely thanks to multiple arrests in Russia — Neutrino is now the biggest game in town. No surprise, then, than its rental fee has more than doubled to $7,000 per month, a cost many threat actors are willing to pay for an exploit kit (EK) able to avoid most layered defense systems.

According to Gadi Naveh of security firm Check Point, Neutrino and similar EKs have “stunning” success rates in delivering ransomware, so it’s likely that Neutrio’s authors will get exactly what they’re asking for. InfoWorld, meanwhile, raised the point that although some popular EKs have disappeared, it’s more likely that cybercriminals will come back stronger than ever since most law enforcement busts are only small hiccups for malware-makers.

GitHub? Get Out

So how did cybercriminals get their hands on the newest Neutrino exploit? It all started with Microsoft. Back in May, the software giant released security bulletin MS16-053, which addressed two remote code execution flaws in JScript and VbScript (CVE-2016-0187 and CVE-2016-0189). Both issues could be exploited via Internet Explorer, and Symantec detailed targeted attacks with CVE-2016-0189 on South Korean users prior to the fix.

This would have been the end of it if not for security firm Theori, whose researchers developed a proof of concept (PoC) that leveraged the vulnerability even after Microsoft’s patch job. Again, not a problem — except that instead of keeping it within the security community, this weaponized PoC made its way to GitHub, where criminals performed a simple copy-and-paste job.

Unintended Consequences

As a result, according to Softpedia, the new Neutrino code is “identical to the GitHub exploit,” save for a few lines of code at the very beginning. Multiple companies have now seen this exploit in the wild as part of an infected Adobe Flash file. While the original exploit was tested on Windows 10, it’s likely that it also works across older versions of Microsoft’s OS.

Bottom line: Security research and PoC development are essential parts of a strong security ecosystem. If sharing code trumps security response, however, results often run opposite stated intentions. In this case, Neutrino gained a signal boost when researchers hoped to lower the volume.

Douglas Bonderud
Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for...
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