Crypto-mining malware is being hidden in fake versions of popular software distributed via free download sites and is avoiding detection by waiting for a month before it runs. Dubbed Nitrokod, the malware campaign has been active since at least 2019 and has been detailed by cybersecurity researchers at Check Point. Crypto miners, also known as cryptojackers, are a form of malware that secretly exploit the computing power of infected devices to mine for cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency is sent to the malware operator, who is likely using a large network of infected devices to generate as much cryptocurrency as possible.
Nitrokod is distributed via free software download sites that researchers say can be found easily using search engines. The software downloads claim to be desktop versions of popular web applications. “The malware is dropped from applications that are popular, but don’t have an actual desktop version such as Google Translate, keeping the malware versions in demand and exclusive,” Check Point said. Anyone who downloads these trojan applications will unwittingly find themselves infected with crypto-mining malware, but not for a month after the first download, due to a multi-stage process that delays the infection process to help ensure the attack isn’t discovered. The infection process begins when the application is downloaded via a web installer, which in turn downloads and runs a .exe installer that is used to maintain persistence on the infected machine, as well as sending information about it back to the attacker. Five days after this, the next stage of the process delivers a dropper that monitors when the machine is restarted and, after the fourth instance, extracts another installer from an encrypted RAR file. Taking this multi-stage approach helps the malware avoid being detected in a sandbox. At this point, evidence of the previous stages is removed from log files to avoid the installation being tracked and a scheduled task is set up to trigger after 15 days. At that point, another encrypted RAR file is downloaded that delivers another dropper, which in turn delivers another dropper from an encrypted file and executes it. This installs the crypto miner on the infected PC.
According to Check Point, the campaign stayed hidden under the radar for years and victims around the world have inadvertently infected their machines with malware. “What’s most interesting to me is the fact that the malicious software is so popular, yet went under the radar for so long,” said Maya Horowitz, VP of research at Check Point Software.