Do you know the notion “machine war”? If you’re a fan of the Matrix movie trilogy then probably, yes. It denotes the fictional rise of artificially intelligent machines against the human race and their violent conquest of human beings. We want to apply a similar dominance of computationally powerful machines, not to create a population of slaves, but against numerous malicious Android packages that wildly proliferate on unofficial markets.
The idea of malware detection with no human interaction appeared earlier on our blog. In a fundamental article about AVAST research activities by AVAST’s COO, Ondřej Vlček, he effectively described the technologies we employ to deal with Windows threats. Two techniques have been mentioned explicitly, Malware Similarity Search and Evo-Gen, both working with Windows PE file format. Sometimes the latter form of detection technique is denoted as weak automated anti-malware heuristic.
The main effort is to reach two slightly conflicting qualities at the same time: The robustness, which means that suggested methods cover as many threats as possible; and simplicity, so that the methods are easily implemented in AVAST’s mobile security solution. The search for balance between those qualities is assisted by lessons learned from automated heuristic for Windows PE executables.
At the turn of the year we started to observe a Trojan, not much discussed previously (with a brand new final payload). It has many interesting aspects: It possesses a complex structure containing both 32-bit and 64-bit code; it achieves its persistence with highly invasive methods; and it is robust enough to contain various payloads/functionalites.
Evolution of Blackbeard
Confronting this threat for the first time, we wondered about its classification. Using AVAST’s Malware Similarity Search, we found an old sample (the TimeStamp said “02 / 20 / 12 @ 3:30:55am UTC”) in the malware database that shared the threat’s structure of PE header. Moreover, it also contained debug info with a string “Blackbeard,” so we decided to dub it like that.
The development of the code evolved in time. We can connect a part of the infection chain of this Trojan with the threat called Win32/64:Viknok. For both the historic and the current variant of Blackbeard, the complexity of the structure is sketched on this scheme:
The Avast Research Lab is where some of the Avast’s brightest brains essentially create new ways of detecting malware. These are either features inside the product (such as FileRep and autosandboxing, including all of its recent development) as well as components that run on our backend – i.e. things that users don’t necessarily see but that are equally important for the overall quality of the product.
In fact, working on the backend stuff takes up more of their time these days, as more and more intelligence in Avast is moving to the cloud and/or is being delivered in almost real time via the avast! streaming update technology. Read more…