Earlier last week the security vendor Kaspersky detailed their initial findings from the compromised supply chain of the Taiwanese hardware vendor Asus.
TL DR: If you own or use any Asus laptop or desktop system, please check if your device is affected using the downloadable tool from Kaspersky (which checks the MAC address (defined) of your network card). If you know how to obtain the MAC address of your network card manually you can use the online tool. This is the link for both tools: https://securelist.com/operation-shadowhammer/89992/
If you are affected, contact Kaspersky, contact Asus or use the anti-malware tools to try attempt removal of the backdoor (defined) yourself.
When did this attack take place and what was affected?
This incident took place from June to November 2018 and was initially thought to have affected approximately 60,000 users. This number was later revised to possibly affecting just over a million users. While primarily users in Asia and Russia were targeted; a graph of victim’s distribution by country shows users within South America, Europe and the US. It was later disclosed that mainly Asus laptops were affected by this incident.
What Asus infrastructure was affected?
An older version of the Asus Live Update utility was compromised by unknown attackers so that it would inject a backdoor within the Asus Live Update utility when it was running. The compromised Asus Live Update utility was signed with an older but still legitimate Asus digital signature. The compromised Asus utility was available for download from two official Asus servers.
What were the attacker’s intentions?
Unfortunately, even after extensive analysis it is unknown why the attackers targeted their chosen victim systems or what their eventual goal was. The backdoor would have likely allowed the attackers to steal files of their choice, remote control the system (if the second stage had been installed) and deploy compromised updates to systems which in the case of a UEFI update may have rendered the system unbootable.
It appears the goal of the attackers was to target approximately 600 systems of interest to them with the initial intention to carry the above-mentioned actions. We know it is approximately 600 systems since upon installation the malware would check if the system had a MAC address of interest; if yes it would install the stage 2 download (which unfortunately Kaspersky was unable to obtain a sample of). The server which hosted the stage 2 download was taken offline in November 2018 before Kaspersky became aware of this attack.
If the system was not of interest, the backdoor would simply stay dormant on the system. It’s unclear how the attackers may choose to leverage this in the future (assuming it remains intact on a system which installed the compromised utility).
Do we know who is responsible?
It is not possible to determine with absolute certainty who these attackers were but it is believed it is the same perpetrators as that of the ShadowPad incident of 2017. Microsoft identifies this advanced persistent threat (APT) (defined) group with the designation of BARIUM (who previously made use of the Winnti backdoor).
How have Asus responded to this threat?
Initially when Kaspersky contacted Asus on the 31st of January 2019 Asus denied their servers were compromised. Separately a Kaspersky employee met with Asus in person on the 14th of February 2019. However, Asus remained largely until earlier this week.
On the 26th of March Asus published a notice which contains an FAQ. They issued an updated version (3.6.8) of the Asus Live Update utility. Additionally, they have “introduced multiple security verification mechanisms to prevent any malicious manipulation in the form of software updates or other means, and implemented an enhanced end-to-end encryption mechanism. At the same time, we have also updated and strengthened our server-to-end-user software architecture to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future”.
They have also made available a utility to check if your system was affected. It is downloadable from the above linked to notice.
How can I remove the backdoor from my system if I installed the compromised Asus utility?
While Asus in their announcement recommends a full backup and full reset of your system; for some that may not be a preferred choice. If you use Kaspersky security suite it will very likely easily remove it since they were the first to detect it.
Please which ever approach is more convenient for you.
If you want to leave your system as it is:
I would first recommend a scan of your system with your current anti-malware product. I would then recommend using free anti-malware scanners such as RogueKiller, AdwCleaner and PowerEraser since they use cloud based forensic analysis and compare known safe files on your system with VirusTotal to check if any file has been tampered with or is new/suspicious. It is very unlikely the backdoor could hide from all of these utilities. Yes, this is overkill but will ensure a thorough check.
A link to full original story of this malware is available here.
You use an Asus system; how were you affected?
Since my high-end Core i9 7980 Extreme desktop uses an Asus desktop motherboard (ROG Rampage VI Apex); I ran the Asus utility to check my system; It displayed the message “Only for Asus systems” before closing. I’ll make an educated guess and assume that since the threat mainly affects laptops running this tool on a desktop system resulted in this message.
The offline and online tools from Kaspersky showed no issues with my system. I wasn’t surprised since I don’t use the Asus Live Update utility. Their drivers are available manually from their website and that’s how I stay updated.
I upload every downloaded file for my system to VirusTotal, verify the checksums and digital signatures, use two reputation based scanners on new downloads and have application whitelisting enabled. In summary; my system will be more difficult to compromise.