By Ionut Arghire on January 24, 2019
Steganography is a method of hiding information within files, and has been long used by cybercriminals in malicious attacks. The powerful exploit obfuscation technique allows threat actors to generate PDF documents that can bypass the detection of almost all anti-virus engines, EdgeSpot’s researchers say.
The analyzed sample was initially submitted to VirusTotal in October 2017, but only one anti-virus engine was detecting it as an exploit last week, EdgeSpot says. The detection rate didn’t improve by much by the time the researchers completed their investigation.
The attackers used the this.getIcon() and util.iconStreamFromIcon() PDF JS APIs that, when working together, can read the stream of an image named as “icon” stored in the PDF file.
To apply this technique to their documents, the attackers “likely copied a project/technique called “steganography.js”, which is open sourced,” EdgeSpot says.
The project was meant to target browsers, but the attackers likely modified it and successfully used it in the creation of malicious PDF samples.
“We could not find any information mentioning such technique in PDF exploits before, so we believe this is the first time that the ‘steganography’ technique is used to hide PDF exploits,” the security researchers say.
The use of this malicious code obfuscation allows attackers to create PDF documents in which streams look normal and images are viewable, thus making everything seem legitimate.
“The ‘steganography’ technique could not only be used to obfuscate this exploit (CVE-2013-3346) but also can be applied to many other PDF exploits including zero-days. We ask security defenders to pay close attention to it,” EdgeSpot concludes.
After opened, the PDF disguised as an IRS document looked normal.
The icon stream named “icon” in the object-131 could be saved as a “jpg” file and viewed in image viewer without problem. As shown below:
Nevertheless, there’s no suspicious data can be found inside the icon file, since the malicious code data is heavily obfuscated.
Furthermore, we deduce that this sample and the previous one were from the same author, for following reasons.
- Both of them exploit the same vulnerability (CVE-2013-3346)
In this blog we researched into the truly advanced “steganography” technique used for obfuscating PDF exploits, which is a demonstration of the power of our EdgeLogic engine as we are able to beat this obfuscation technique, among many others.
Just like the previous one, the “steganography” technique could not only be used to obfuscate this exploit (CVE-2013-3346) but also can be applied to many other PDF exploits including zero-days. We ask security defenders to pay close attention to it.