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Link between NSA and Regin cyberespionage malware becomes clearer

Lucian Constantin | Jan. 28, 2015
Security researchers found a strong connection between Regin and a keylogger used by the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

Keylogging malware that may have been used by the NSA shares signficant portions of code with a component of Regin, a sophisticated platform that has been used to spy on businesses, government institutions and private individuals for years.

The keylogger program, likely part of an attack framework used by the U.S. National Security Agency and its intelligence partners, is dubbed QWERTY and was among the files that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked to journalists. It was released by German news magazine Der Spiegel on Jan. 17 along with a larger collection of secret documents about the malware capabilities of the NSA and the other Five Eyes partners -- the intelligence agencies of the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

"We've obtained a copy of the malicious files published by Der Spiegel and when we analyzed them, they immediately reminded us of Regin," malware researchers from antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab said Tuesday in a blog post. "Looking at the code closely, we conclude that the 'QWERTY' malware is identical in functionality to the Regin 50251 plugin."

Moreover, the Kaspersky researchers found that both QWERTY and the 50251 plug-in depend on a different module of the Regin platform identified as 50225 which handles kernel-mode hooking. This component allows the malware to run in the highest privileged area of the operating system -- the kernel.

This is strong proof that QWERTY can only operate as part of the Regin platform, the Kaspersky researchers said. "Considering the extreme complexity of the Regin platform and little chance that it can be duplicated by somebody without having access to its source code, we conclude the QWERTY malware developers and the Regin developers are the same or working together."

Der Spiegel reported that QWERTY is likely a plug-in of a unified malware framework codenamed WARRIORPRIDE that is used by all Five Eye partners. This is based on references in the code to a dependency called WzowskiLib or CNELib.

In a separate leaked document authored by the Communications Security Establishment Canada, the Canadian counterpart of the NSA, WARRIORPRIDE is described as a flexible computer network exploitation (CNE) platform that's an implementation of the "WZOWSKI" Five Eyes API (application programming interface).

The document also notes that WARRIORPRIDE is known under the code name DAREDEVIL at the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and that the Five Eyes intelligence partners can create and share plug-ins for it.

The newly discovered link between QWERTY and Regin suggests that the cyberespionage malware platform security researchers call Regin is most likely WARRIORPRIDE.

Some experts already suspected this based on other clues. According to Kaspersky Lab, Regin was the malware program that infected the personal computer of Belgian cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater in 2013. That attack was linked to another malware attack against Belgian telecommunications group Belgacom whose customers include the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council.

 

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