Kaspersky Lab analyses active cyber-espionage campaign targeting online gaming companies

Cybercriminal organisation “Winnti” compromises gaming companies’ systems, steals intellectual property and digital certificates for malicious use.

Today Kaspersky Lab’s team of experts published a detailed research report that analyses a sustained cyber-espionage campaign conducted by the cybercriminal organisation known as “Winnti.”

According to Kaspersky Lab’s report, the Winnti group has been attacking companies in the online gaming industry since 2009 and is currently still active. The group’s objectives are stealing digital certificates signed by legitimate software vendors in addition to intellectual property theft, including the source code of online game projects.

The first incident that drew attention to the Winnti group’s malicious activities occurred in the autumn of 2011, when a malicious Trojan was detected on a large number of end-user computers across the globe. The clear link between all of the infected computers is that they were used to play a popular online game. Shortly after the incident, details emerged that the malicious programme which had infected the users’ computers was part of a regular update from the gaming company’s official server. Infected users and members of the gaming community suspected the computer game publisher was installing the malware to spy on its customers. However, it later became clear that the malicious programme was installed on the players’ computers by accident, and that the cybercriminals were actually targeting the computer game company itself.

In response, the computer game publisher that owned the servers which spread the Trojan to its users asked Kaspersky Lab to analyse the malicious programme. The Trojan turned out to be a DLL library compiled for a 64-bit Windows environment and used a properly signed malicious drive. It was a fully functionally Remote Administration Tool (RAT), which gives attackers the ability to control a victim’s computer without the user’s knowledge. The finding was significant as this Trojan was the first malicious programme on a 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows 7 that had a valid digital signature.

Kaspersky Lab’s experts began analysing the Winnti group’s campaign and found that more than 30 companies in the online gaming industry had been infected by the Winnti group, with the majority being software development companies producing online video games in South East Asia. However, online gaming companies located in Germany, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, Peru, and Belarus were also identified as victims of the Winnti group.

In addition to industrial espionage, Kaspersky Lab’s experts have identified three main monetisation schemes that could be used by the Winnti group to generate an illegal profit:

  • Manipulate the accumulation of in-game currency, such as “runes” or “gold” that’s used by players and convert the accumulated virtual money into real money;
  • Use the stolen source code from online game servers to search for vulnerabilities inside games to augment and accelerate the manipulation of in-game currency and its accumulation without suspicion;
  • Use the stolen source code from servers of popular online games in order to deploy their own pirated servers.

Currently the Winnti group is still active and Kaspersky Lab’s investigation is ongoing. The company’s team of experts has been diligently working with the IT security community, online gaming industry and certificate authorities to identify additional infected servers while assisting with the revocation of stolen digital certificates.

To read Kaspersky Lab’s research post and the full report about the Winnti group’s campaign, including a complete technical analysis of the investigation, please visit Securelist.

Kaspersky Lab’s products detect and neutralise the malicious programmes and its variants used by the Winnti group, classified as Backdoor.Win32.Winnti, Backdoor.Win64.Winnti, Rootkit.Win32.Winnti and Rootkit.Win64.Winnti.

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Kaspersky Lab analyses active cyber-espionage campaign targeting online gaming companies