Citadel trojan, migration of cybercrime to the deep web

Pierluigi Paganini July 04, 2012

We all remember the Citadel trojan, based on  the Zeus experience has evolved becoming one of the most interesting cyber criminal project. Few months ago I wrote on the excellent customer relationship management (CRM) model implemented by its creators. Thanks a malware evolution dictated by market needs, the trojan has evolved in time, many instances have been detected with different powerful features developed for specific clients.

The creators of the agent have structured an efficient services for the sell ( with sales price of nearly $2,500) and the supply of improvement services for the trojan through social network platforms.

But just one of the strengths of the model, the opportunity to get in touch with the  creators of the virus, paradoxically, could stop the spread of the dreaded malware.

So how to protect anonymity of the creators maintaining a malware as service selling model?

Deep web gives a great opportunity, that’s why Citadel’s authors will probably migrate to the hidden web, trying to avoid the controls of law enforcement.

The need to restrict the audience of prospective customers could restrict the global business preserving its vitality. Another threat to the Citadel’s model is represented by the researchers that could infiltrate the customers networks to reverse engine the instances of malware to neutralize them.

Recently the security blog S21Sec discovered a new version of Citadel developed to avoid detection and analysis usually done using sandboxes.

Very interesting the discovery of a specific anti-emulator, which allows to protect botnet from reversing engineering  and being tracked. Once started the component is able to detect if the malware is running in a virtual environment (e.g. VMware, Virtualbox) and in that case to implement hiding techniques to avoid the detecting of the trojan.

The anonymity is the need for cyber criminal, we have assisted to the proliferation of encrypted instant messaging communications and of VPN service providers, all to avoid to be spied on.

Cyber crime is characterized by a technical soul that is pushing the implementation of new hidden services deployed in the dark web.

New specific figures are emerging, cyber experts that are able to setup  efficient market services far from the eyes of law enforcement.

We are assisting to the consolidation of the black market, brokers can set up auctions to sell new malware and zero-day vulnerabilities ensuring the anonymity of the parties.

We are assisting to a massive movement of the malware market from the clear web to the deep web, specific services are multiplying in network such as Freenet and Tor.

Following cyber criminals in deep web is much harder, tracking activities are essentially possible due the infiltration of agents, but it’s not so simple. These new dark communities they are increasingly becoming closed, they are elusive and difficult to locate.

It the deep web is quite simple to find any kind of services that sells every type of odds such as drugs, weapons, credit cards and so on, a market without rules, with a unique imperative …. make money.

Living in the deep web with conviction that it can offer a kind of immunity to crime is deeply wrong, technological methods and infiltration make in the time are the winning. Consider that for example law enforcement all over the world maintains a set of fake identities during the years to infiltrate forums, they work in active way proposing solutions or making trade of fraudulent goods.

One of the phenomena that more is benefiting for the movement of the cg of illegal market from clear web to deep web has been identifies has cybercrime-as-a-service, a new model of Cybercrime to cybercrime (C2C) where ordinary crime meet sthe offer of cyber criminal to prepare cyber attacks or cyber frauds without having technical knowledge.

Cyber criminal organizations operate as enterprise, last week we have read about the Capfire4 service that proposes tools for the organization of cyber attacks such as spam of malware, malware hosting, and a to build up a complete command and control infrastructure (C&C) for the arrangement of botnets.

Similar service is really efficient but to noisy, law enforcement and also security press have immediately localized it, due this reason the crime is emigrating in that part of web not indexable by common search engines.

What to expect from the future?

From technological point of view, the use of the deep web is the best choice, the right balance between openness of the business and anonymity.

The crime industries evolved, following the technological solutions proposed by IT leading enterprises, and at least in the computer industry, it has set up a proven and extremely efficient model of sales and CRM.

The persecution of this type of crime is complex for a multitude of factors, both on the legislative and technological perspective.

Surely there is much to do today in an attempt to infiltrate these emerging organizations, often lack a consolidated background also due young age of gang members and therefore vulnerable to external influences.

Another critical aspect in the tracking of these activities is related to the circulation of money and problems relating to payments, we discussed about bitcoin and services for the anonymity of the transfers, though to date precisely this phase is the most critical for those who want to make criminal profits without being traced.
The only certainty is the need to define a suitable model for investigations in an area that is explored relatively recently.

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Pierluigi Paganini

Security Affairs – (malware, Citadel)

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