ISC StormCast for Friday, June 28th 2013

Opera got pw0n3d: But did you get pw0n3d too?

Published: 2013-06-28
Last Updated: 2013-06-28 02:11:16 UTC
by Johannes Ullrich (Version: 1)
5 comment(s)

Opera recently suffered a compromisse to one of the servers it uses to distribute software updates. You probably read about the fact, that as part of this compromisse an expired certificate was used to sign malicious software. This software was then distributed using Opera's update servers. Users checking for updates during the time the malicious software was live automatically downloaded and installed the software using Opera's automatic update feature.

We can talk a lot about what may or may not have been done by Opera to prevent this from happening. At least, they detected the problem quickly, but then again, it took them a few weeks to notify users. But not too many of you are probably distributing major software packages. However, we all rely in some ways on automatic updates, and hope that vendors deliver "clean" (even if not bug free) software.

So what can you do to detect and clean up malicious software that was installed directly from a trusted vendor?


A very long time ago, before we hashed passwords, this was one of the favorite once used by our users and somewhat indicates the attitude of many of our readers. Is paranoia still paranoia if they are actually out there to get you? In real live, this usually doesn't get you far. Features like auto-updates, and trusting digital signatures, are necessary to survive with non existing patch windows. You should however always think "defense in depth". There may be other controls to make sure the software behaves as expected. For example, if software "calls out" to other sites. Sadly, for a web browser, outbound connections are expected and hard to verfiy.


At this point in time, the malware distributed via the Opera update is widely recognized. However, if your system was infected, Anti-Malware is likely no longer functioning as designed. The attacker had a couple weeks to download and install additional components. One trick that may still work is an offline malware scan using a bootable CD. This method however doesn't scale well and is time consuming even for individual PCs. As a compromisse, you may want to scan the suspicous drive over the network by mounting it to a known clean system


Many whitelisting systems will not flag software if it comes with a valid signature. Also, in this case, you may have added an exception thinking that the update to Opera was legitimate as it came from a legitimate Opera server and was signed.

Network Based Controls

This is probably the best way to avoid modifications made by the malware to the host. But properly configuring network based controlls (Firewall, Intrusion Detection or Prevention Systems) is tricky. You are likely still relying on signatures, and the signature may come too late in this case after the malware installed additional tools that no longer match the original signature. But a well tunes IDS is probably your best bet to detect this.

Host based Intrusion Detection/Prevention

HIPS comes in many forms, but I am thinking here of behavioral tools that detect processes escalating privileges and accessing files they shouldn't access (or establishing network connections). This may work here, if the malware doesn't manage to disable these tools.

My summary: Start with the host. If it is patched and well protected (Anti Malware / Whitelists ...), then chances are smaller that the malware will disable these features. The chance isn't 0, but smaller. Secondly, make sure your network defenses are in order and provide meaningful alerts that suplement hostbased detection.

Any other ideas I missed?




Johannes B. Ullrich, Ph.D.
SANS Technology Institute

5 comment(s)


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