Analysis of the New Adobe Flash Attacks

When Adobe warned customers earlier this week about a newly discovered vulnerability in the Flash Player software, company officials said that there were already attacks underway against the bug. Those attacks are using malicious Flash files buried in Word documents and Microsoft’s security engineers have analyzed the exploits and found some interesting details.

Adobe WordWhen Adobe warned customers earlier this week about a newly discovered vulnerability in the Flash Player software, company officials said that there were already attacks underway against the bug. Those attacks are using malicious Flash files buried in Word documents and Microsoft’s security engineers have analyzed the exploits and found some interesting details.

This is the second serious Flash vulnerability in recent weeks that attackers have targeted through the use of malicious Office files. In a previous round of attacks, hackers were going after an earlier Flash zero day with rigged Excel files. This time, Microsoft officials said, not only is the bug different, but so is the attack. Though both attacks use malicious Office files to trick users, the details are dissimilar.

The attack presents to the user via a spam message, often with a subject line referencing the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and carrying a malicious Word document as an attachment.

“Once a user opens the document, Flash Player will load the malicious
file and exploitation will occur. Unlike the previous vulnerability, a
bug in the ActionScript Virtual Machine version 1 is now used in the
exploitation process. Another difference is that this is not a result of
fuzzing clean files. We won’t disclose any detail on what triggers the
vulnerability, for security reasons, obviously,” Marian Radu, Daniel Radu and Jaime Wong of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center wrote in an analysis of the Flash exploit attempts.

“In order to exploit this vulnerability the attackers packaged the
AVM1 code inside an AVM2 based Flash file. The latter is embedded inside
the Word document and assigned with setting up the exploitation
environment. Initially the AVM2 code constructs a heap-spray buffer made of a NOP-sled.”

The next step is the construction of the shellcode, which in turn then loads the Flash exploit code inside the Flash Player.

“The AVM1 code that triggers this vulnerability is loaded as a separate
SWF file, converted from a hex-encoded embedded string and executed,” the researchers said.

The shellcode performs some other tasks, as well, including installing a benign Word document on the compromised machine as a way of hiding the original malicious file.

This attack method is essentially the one that the attackers used to compromise RSA last month and steal some data related ot the company’s SecurID product line.

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