Code name found in Equation group malware suggests link to NSA

The name matches an NSA project listed in a secret document leaked by Edward Snowden

As security researchers continue to analyze malware used by a sophisticated espionage group dubbed the Equation, more clues surface that point to the U.S. National Security Agency being behind it.

In February, Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab released an extensive report about a group that has carried out cyberespionage operations since at least 2001 and possibly even as far back as 1996. The report detailed the group's attack techniques and malware tools.

The Kaspersky researchers have dubbed the group Equation and said that its capabilities are unrivaled. However, they didn't link the group to the NSA or any other intelligence agency, despite similarities between its tools and those described in secret NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Kaspersky found code names like SKYHOOKCHOW, DRINKPARSLEY, LUTEUSOBSTOS, STRAITACID, STRAITSHOOTER in the malware used by the Equation group. While these were not a direct match to NSA code names known so far, they bear a striking resemblance to some of them.

A secret document leaked by Snowden and published by German news magazine Der Spiegel contains a list of project names from NSA's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division. The list includes names like SKYJACKBRAD, DRINKMINT and LUTEUSASTRO. According to a different document, the NSA has a malware implant called STRAITBIZZARE and refers to computers infected with it as QUANTUM shooters. It also has a program called FOXACID.

The Kaspersky researchers found an Equation malware component called "standalonegrok." According to a December report in The Intercept, the NSA has a keylogger named GROK.

However, the most direct link came Wednesday, when Kaspersky Lab published a technical analysis of the main malware framework used by the Equation group. In the report, the company's researchers revealed another code name recently found in the malware: BACKSNARF_AB25. The BACKSNARF code name is listed in the previously mentioned document about NSA TAO projects.

The malware platform, which was dubbed EquationDrug, has a modular architecture and resembles a mini operating system, the Kaspersky researchers said. So far 30 of its plug-ins have been found, but the platform might have more than 115 modules, each implementing different functionality.

Statistics based on compilation time stamps found in the EquationDrug samples collected so far suggest that its developers are working almost exclusively from Monday to Friday and are likely located in the UTC-3 or UTC-4 time zones, if we assume that they start work at 8 or 9 am. Time stamps in malware samples are not always reliable, because developers can alter them, but in the case of EquationDrug, the Kaspersky researchers believe they look "very realistic."

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.

Tags securitymalwarespywarekaspersky labNational Security Agency

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

Brand Post

PC World Evaluation Team Review - 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."

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

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.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?