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The Booz Allen Dark Labs’ Advanced Threat Hunt team discovered a unique form of adware lurking on networks that evades all traditional forms of cyber defense. The adware is a previously known threat that is commonly used to inject advertisements into a user’s browser and covertly collect information about the user’s browsing activity. This adware employs advanced techniques commonly seen in Nation-State-level APTs to evade detection, maintain persistence, and connect to Command and Control (C2) servers to initiate a stage 2 attack.
The Booz Allen Dark Labs’ Advanced Threat Hunt team recently discovered a unique form of adware lurking on networks that evades all traditional forms of cyber defenses. The adware is a previously known threat that is commonly used to inject advertisements into a user’s browser and covertly collect information about the user’s browsing activity.
Adware is often ignored during security operations because it is generally considered unsophisticated, is prevalent, and has a low perceived threat level. This adware, which we are calling Advanced Persistent Adware (APA), is unique because it leverages advanced techniques, typically only seen in attacks attributed to Nation-State-level Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), to evade detection, maintain persistence, and connect to a Command and Control (C2) server to facilitate the second stage of the attack. This APA is similar to adware detected by Carbon Black’s Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platform. Both examples demonstrate the growing need for advanced detection as the playing field continues to evolve in favor of these threats.
Leveraging built-in windows tools, such as Scheduled Tasks (taskeng.exe) or wscript.exe, the APA decrypts and executes its payload in memory, rather than on disk, which further allows it to avoid anti-virus detection. The first function of the APA is to look for two files in its parent directory. If both files exist, the APA sends an HTTP POST request to a C2 server. All communications to and from the C2 server are encrypted to avoid network-based detection by the SIEM or IDS platform. When an HTTP 200 Response is received from the C2 server, the APA initiates stage two, which involves extracting the contents of the C2’s Response, decrypting the extracted code, and executing the code in memory. The full functionality and impact of stage two is still being analyzed, but from the details that we have uncovered, we can say that the additional code retrieved from the C2 server is advanced and given its ability to execute arbitrary code could be used as an implant for exfiltrating data and receiving further tasking outside of its adware capabilities.
We discovered the APA by leveraging Dark Labs’ Advanced Threat Hunt (ATH) platform, using hypothesis-driven
As seen with this APA, cyber adversaries are skilled at defeating reactive, IOC based defenses by constantly developing and evolving malicious tools, techniques, and procedures (
At Booz Allen, we have spent the last decade refining our tradecraft and assembling teams of analysts who can think like adversaries and know how to identify warning signs. Our analysts specialize in global malware hunt operations, anti-malware research, development of APT countermeasures, and use measurable processes to strengthen network defenses and identify adversary activity. By regularly evaluating their networks for threat activity, organizations can detect attacks in progress and mitigate these risks before it’s too late.
Join our elite Dark Labs Threat Hunting team to protect our nation’s cyber infrastructure.
Our ability to recruit and retain top-tier cyber talent allows us to build teams with the true diversity of skill sets required to overcome our clients’ toughest, most specialized cybersecurity challenges. Read More