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Windows kernel '0-day' vulnerability found in Duqu attack


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One version of the attack was triggered by a rigged Microsoft Word .doc that probably included some social engineering and required the target to open the booby-trapped file.

The mysterious Duqu malware attack exploited a zero-day vulnerability in the Windows kernel, according to security researchers tracking the Stuxnet-like cyber-surveillance Trojan.

Researchers at the Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security (CrySyS) in Hungary confirmed the existence of the zero-day vulnerability and exploit in a brief note posted to its web site.

Our lab, the Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security (CrySyS) pursued the analysis of the Duqu malware and as a result of our investigation, we identified a dropper file with an MS 0-day kernel exploit inside. We immediately provided competent organizations with the necessary information such that they can take appropriate steps for the protection of the users.

The vulnerability has since been reported to Microsoft. However, the company has not yet issued a security advisory to provide pre-patch mitigation guidance to Windows users.

One version of the attack was triggered by a rigged Microsoft Word .doc that probably included some social engineering and required the target to open the booby-trapped file. However, since this is a kernel vulnerability, it is possible that other attack vectors have been/could be used.

Here’s more information on the zero-day component from Symantec.

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Microsoft Unlikely to Patch Duqu Kernel Bug Next Week

The odds are that Microsoft won't patch the Windows kernel bug next week that the Duqu remote-access Trojan exploits to plant itself on targeted PCs, a researcher said today.

"Probably not," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security, when asked what chance he gave Microsoft fixing the flaw Nov. 8, this month's regular Patch Tuesday.

"I think we'll see an advisory today or tomorrow, but patching next week would really be pushing it for Microsoft," said Storms.

He based his assumption on Microsoft's apparently reactive move to news today from Symantec, which said that additional analysis showed the Duqu malware is installed after a Windows kernel bug is exploited.

"If Microsoft had information [about the vulnerability] before this, it would have been faster either patching or with an advisory," said Storms. "They're in reaction mode now, and probably working up an advisory."

Storms took a stab at what the advisory will contain.

"They'll likely recommend filtering Word documents, and using tools to change older documents to the newer file format," said Storms.

According to Symantec, the Duqu samples it's acquired rely on a malformed Word document to launch the kernel exploit.

Duqu, which Symantec first publicized last month, was characterized by the security firm as a possible precursor to the next Stuxnet , the ultra-sophisticated worm that last year was pegged as an attack tool aimed at Iran's nuclear program .

Some analysts, however, have disagreed, and have dismissed the idea that Duqu can be reliably linked to Stuxnet.

Today, Storms said that the hackers' exploit of the Windows kernel vulnerability reinforces the latter view.

"They're using [the kernel bug] to deploy the Trojan," said Storms, pointing to Symantec's explanation and accompanying diagram of Duqu's infection process. "That tells me Duqu may not be a very sophisticated attack."

Leveraging kernel vulnerabilities -- which typically let attacks gain the rights necessary on the targeted PC to install further malware -- is "pretty common," noted Storms.

Microsoft has patched scores of kernel vulnerabilities this year, including a whopping 30 in April 2011 alone.

Today, Microsoft said it's on the case.

"Microsoft is collaborating with our partners to provide protections for a vulnerability used in targeted attempts to infect computers with the Duqu malware," said Jerry Bryant of the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing group, in an email. "We are working diligently to address this issue and will release a security update for customers through our security bulletin process."

A Microsoft spokeswoman later declined to comment on when the company would patch the kernel vulnerability.

Microsoft's next scheduled security updates will be released at approximately 1 p.m. ET, Nov. 8.

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