Saudi Government Agencies Attacked By Data-Wiping Malware

By Victor Thomson , Dec 02, 2016 03:19 AM EST

Several government bodies in Saudi Arabia were hit with a cyberattack with a worm-like malware that can destroy data and wipe computer systems.

Shamoon Malware Attack

The country's Saudi Press Agency Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday, Dec 1, that several Saudi government agencies and vital installations suffered a cyber attack, disrupting their servers. Among the agencies, hit was included the transportation sector. The press agency also said that security experts believe that the attack was performed by an actor from outside the country.

According to Computerworld, security firms explained that the attack involved malware called Disttrack or Shamoon. The same malware was previously found four years ago targeting a Saudi Arabian oil company. Back then, the attack was able to disable around 30,000 computers.  

Security experts found that the latest attack involved the malware acting as a time bomb. The malicious coding was configured to start wiping data on Nov. 17 at 8:45 p.m. local time. According to security company Symantec, this is the end of the work week in the country.

Symantec also said in a blog post that the malware was configured with passwords stolen from the targeted organizations.  It is still unknown at the moment how the attackers obtained the stolen credentials.

How Shamoon Works

The Shamoon malware works by copying itself to new computers after spreading across the victim's network. A system-wiping function that will overwrite a hard disk is used in this new variant of the malware. The data stored on hard disk is replaced with the image of a 3-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned last year in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to security firm Palo Alto Networks Palo Alto Networks, the malware appears to have been configured to be "solely focused on destruction." Shamoon may have sent phishing emails to their targets in order to gain access to the stolen passwords used by the malware. The users were tricked into giving up their credentials. But it is also possible that the hackers may have already had inside access.

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