Project Sauron- that’s the name of the sinister malware that has been spying on government computers and computers at major organizations for over five years. Researchers who have detected this malware have given it the name Project Sauron because of the reference to Sauron, the main antagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, in its source code.
Project Sauron was first detected reportedly on a government network, an unspecified government network last September in the course of investigating some malicious activity that was detected on one of the machines in the network. Subsequent probes revealed that the malware was present in many other networks too. Project Sauron has been found in the networks of at least 30 organizations. This includes government networks and strategic ones like the networks of military, financial and telecommunications organizations. Reports say that the malware has been detected in an airline in China, an embassy in Belgium, and an unidentified organization in Sweden.
Researchers who probed the issue found the presence of a strange executable file that claimed to be a Windows password filter. Whenever a user would log on or enter a password, this executable would start up. This malware could be used to steal passwords, encryption keys, configuration files and log stores, which would then be passed on directly to the hackers. Next, the malware logs key strokes and thereby opens a backdoor for a hacker to take control of a system or network.
Project Sauron is a malware that’s almost impossible to detect and unlike usual malware, appears differently on different systems/networks. The malware doesn’t leave behind tell-tale signs like other malware would and thus it becomes rather difficult to identify other infections. The creators of Project Sauron make sure that no two infections are similar and that no two infected systems create the same software “artifacts”. The malware is also able to disguise itself in many ways, like for example as files with names similar to those published by Microsoft. The method of sending data back to the hacker also is not the same always. This would baffle researchers who are constantly looking for patterns.
Project Sauron is,in fact, a very sophisticated malware and can get through some of the most extensive firewalls too. The malware could also infect systems which are air-gapped, which are not connected to the internet and thus not accessible to usual malware. Here the entry is made possible through specially prepared USB drives, which would appear to be like the usual mass storage devices, but would also contain a hidden partition of several hundred Mbs. A virtual file system is stored here which makes possible the transfer of data from air-gapped systems. Researchers think that this rather complex attack is done making use of some unknown and undiscovered zero-day vulnerability. Well, this zero-day vulnerability angle is just speculation and is yet to be confirmed.
Project Sauron, which is a very sophisticated malware, is still the subject of analysis and researchers even think of the possibility of some government-sponsored group to be behind the whole thing.