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WhiteShadow downloader uses Microsoft SQL queries to deliver malicious payloads



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Researchers have documented the emergence of a downloader that makes use of Microsoft SQL queries to pull and deliver malicious payloads. 

In August this year, Proofpoint researchers found the new, staged downloader, known as WhiteShadow, which is being used to deliver a variety of malware to vulnerable systems. 

The cybersecurity team said in a blog post on Thursday that WhiteShadow appears to be a “malware delivery service,” given its presence in campaigns used to spread malware including Remote Access Trojans (RATs) such as Crimson RAT, and Agent Tesla, AZORult, and keyloggers, among others.

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In a set of phishing email campaigns launched during August, Proofpoint found WhiteShadow lurking in malicious Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel attachments, pulled into infected systems by way of Visual Basic macros. 

If a victim permitted the macros to be enabled, the downloader would set to work by calling and executing SQL queries pulled from Microsoft SQL Server databases controlled — and rented — by threat actors. 

WhiteShadow uses an SQLOLEDB connector to link to the database remotely and perform queries. Malware is stored as strings which are ASCII-encoded in the database. Once called upon by WhiteShadow, the payload will write to disk as a PKZip archive of a Windows executable. 

“The SQLOLEDB connector is an installable database connector from Microsoft but is included by default in many (if not all) installations of Microsoft Office,” the researchers say. “Once the connector is installed on the system, it can be used by various parts of the Windows subsystem and by Visual Basic scripts including macros in Microsoft Office documents.”

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The malicious payload is installed based on configuration settings stored in a script within the attachments. 

Early campaign indicators revolve around Crimson, a malware family that has been connected to attacks against military and government outfits. The malware has information stealing functionality, is able to perform screen captures, list processes, and is able to harvest emails from Outlook. 

It is not known if the latest Crimson spread is related to past campaigns. 

In addition to Crimson, Proofpoint has also tracked the downloader being used to deliver malware including Nanocore, njRAT, AgentTesla, and Formbook.


Proofpoint says the Microsoft SQL technique is not unheard of, but it is a rarity in the wild. Currently, campaigns employing this method are small, but that does not mean they will remain so in the future. 

TechRepublic: Latest research says organizations need to integrate security principles with DevOps

In related news this week, Microsoft researchers discovered thousands of Windows PCs that have been infected with a new form of malware. Known as Nodersok or Divergent, the malware is distributed through malvertising and may either use infected hosts into relays for malicious proxies or to perform click-fraud. 

Previous and related coverage

Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

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The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security



This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise



This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions



Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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