State-sponsored cyberspies inject victim profiling and tracking scripts in strategic websites

The scripts likely help attackers identify unique users who can be targeted with exploits tailored for their software configurations.

Web analytics and tracking cookies play a vital role in online advertising, but they can also help attackers discover potential targets and their weaknesses, a new report shows.

Security researchers from FireEye have discovered an attack campaign that has injected computer profiling and tracking scripts into over 100 websites visited by business executives, diplomats, government officials and academic researchers.

The researchers believe the compromised websites attract visitors involved in international business travel, diplomacy, energy production and policy, international economics and official government work. They include sites belonging to embassies, educational and research institutions, governments, visa services, energy companies, media organizations and non-profit organizations.

While no exploits or malicious code have been served through the injected scripts, the goal of the attackers appears to be the identification of unique users who can be targeted with attacks tailored for their specific computer and software configurations. FireEye has named the reconnaissance campaign WITCHCOVEN and believe that it's the work of state-sponsored attackers.

When users visit one of the compromised websites, their browsers get silently redirected to one of several WITCHCOVEN profiling servers. Scripts hosted on those servers collect information like the user's IP address, their browser type and version, the language setting, the referring website, the version of Microsoft Office and browser plug-ins like Java, Flash Player, etc.

In addition, they also install so-called supercookies or evercookies inside users' browsers. These cookies are hard to delete and are used to track users across multiple websites.

"We believe that the computer profiling data gathered by the WITCHCOVEN script, combined with the evercookie that persistently identifies a unique user, can – when combined with basic browser data available from HTTP logs – be used by cyber threat actors to identify users of interest, and narrowly target those individuals with exploits specifically tailored to vulnerabilities in their computer system," the FireEye researchers said in their report.

The company has not detected any follow-up exploitation attempts against its customers so far, but this could be because the attackers use a highly-targeted approach to victim selection.

The subsequent exploits could be embedded in malicious documents attached to email spear phishing messages and not necessarily be served through a browser. The gathered information could also be used to assist in traditional spying operations.

Some of the compromised websites suggest that the attackers may have a particular interest in individuals associated with a major Russian energy company, Russian cultural organizations, Russian embassies, Ukraine's security services and border guards and a media organization in the Republic of Georgia, the FireEye researchers said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?