RSA Admin

Kneber Update

Blog Post created by RSA Admin Employee on Aug 22, 2012



There was a significant amount of coverage yesterday on research performed by NetWitness into a large set of stolen information recovered from a ZeuS botnet.  Some of the information, analysis, and commentary was very beneficial to the broader discussion of threats such as these.  There is, however, some information that we feel we should address.


  • Kneber is a pseudonym for ZeuS:

Kneber is not a pseudonym for ZeuS. Kneber refers to one group of organized criminals, one group of Command and Control Systems, and 74,000+ infected victim systems for this particular ZeuS (primarily) botnet.   ZeuS is a tool, used by many groups to create command and control systems, and steal information.  There are hundreds of active ZeuS botnets, many of which are larger than this one. It is but one of many tools used in this particular botnet.  We have seen INTENTIONAL cross pollination of various trojans, including waledec, grum, and even tools such as packet sniffers.  When we discuss threat, we are referring to more than the tool used, but the organization behind them.


  • Kneber is “nothing new”:

We have been very clear that this is a medium sized infestation when compared with all the tracked ZeuS botnets on the Internet.   What does make this very valuable is the opportunity to analyze such a large sample of stolen information, and quantitatively add to the discussion of threats to corporate security.  The number of infected and active systems behind some of the largest, most technology savvy companies needs to be considered, and our approach to security needs to change given the broad failure to identify or remediate these infestations.   In addition, trivializing the damage done is simply disingenuous by anyone who has seen the types of data stolen from threats such as these.


  • Current protections and solutions can detect this type of activity:

This quote from Symantec, via the Guardian, KrebsOnSecurity, and others:


“Kneber, in reality, is not a new threat at all, but is simply a pseudonym for the infamous and well-known Zeus Trojan,” said the company. “The name Kneber simply refers to a particular group, or herd, of zombie computers, a.k.a. bots, being controlled by one owner. The actual Trojan itself is the same Trojan.Zbot, which also goes by the name Zeus, which has been being observed, analyzed and protected against for some time now.”


This quote is particularly troubling, as it seems to minimize the threat and is almost dismissive.   Moreover, when this particular variant was analyzed in late January (various services used), Symantec did NOT detect this as malicious.   To be fair, McAfee, Trend Micro, AVG, and most other mainstream anti-virus solutions also failed to recognize this as malicious.  In the past 3 weeks, Symantec has added signatures to detect this particular variant as a generic “Trojan Horse”.  However, if you were infected by this particular strain, your system has already processed an update that prevents you from contacting Symantec and others for updates.   In most cases, this will prevent future detection.   Worse, as part of normal operation of ZeuS, it attaches to running processes on victim systems in order to monitor them.   This data is logged along with other stolen information.   This set of data shows that ZeuS has actually attached to running versions of Symantec software on over a thousand victim systems.  Many other AV vendors are also present.




This example shows ZeuS monitoring a Symantec Live Update, and includes the ftp username and password used by the Symantec software during the update process.


  • Are the facts overstated?:

The facts are fairly succinct in the whitepaper that we released.   We do not believe the threat is over-stated, and we were very conservative on the analysis released.   There are likely thousands of additional corporate networks affected, and analysis of this much information takes time.   And this is simply one of many similar operations in existence.  The group behind this effort can be described as sophisticated, yet also shows signs of lax effort to hide their trails.   The botnet is very actively managed, and continues in operation today.   The fact that they have been in successful operation for over 18 months also has to be considered.   We have also received several additional data points from federal contacts with additional insight into related government focused attacks.


More to come.


Tim Belcher and Alex Cox