Information security researchers have thus far discovered over 100 victims of the Slingshot cyber espionage software in and its related modules, located in Kenya, Libya, Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania and more countries in the Middle East. The discovery was made by Kaspersky Lab researchers during March 2018.
Slingshot was apparently used specifically to spy on countries in the Middle East and Afrika from at least 2012 until February 2018. Slingshot’s main purpose seems to be cyberespionage. Analysis suggests it collects screenshots, keyboard data, network data, passwords, USB connections, other desktop activity, clipboard data and more, although its kernel access means it can steal whatever it wants.
"The most remarkable thing about Slingshot is probably its unusual attack vector. As researchers uncovered more victims, they found that many seemed to have been initially infected through hacked routers. During these attacks, the group behind Slingshot appears to compromise the routers and place a malicious dynamic link library inside it that is in fact a downloader for other malicious components. When an administrator logs in to configure the router, the router’s management software downloads and runs the malicious module on the administrator’s computer. The method used to hack the routers in the first place remains unknown," said a statement from Kaspersky.
Slingshot attacked and infected targeted victims through compromised network routers and ran in kernel mode, giving it complete control over a victim's devices. According to researchers, many of the techniques used by Slingshot are unique and it was effective at stealthy information gathering, hiding its traffic in marked data packets that it can intercept without trace from everyday communications.
"Following infection, Slingshot loads a number of modules onto the victim device, including two huge and powerful ones: Cahnadr, and GollumApp. The two modules are connected and able to support each other in information gathering, persistence and data exfiltration."
Slingshot worked as a passive backdoor, meaning that it did not have a hard coded command and control address but obtains it from the operator by intercepting all network packages in kernel mode and checking to see if there are two hard coded magic constants in the header. Users of Mikrotik routers should upgrade to the latest software version as soon as possible to ensure protection against known vulnerabilities. Further, Mikrotik Winbox no longer downloads anything from the router to the user’s computer.
“Slingshot is a sophisticated threat, employing a wide range of tools and techniques, including kernel mode modules that have to date only been seen in the most advanced predators. The functionality is very precious and profitable for the attackers, which could explain why it has been around for at least six years,” concluded Alexey Shulmin, Lead Malware Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.