Imagine purchasing an exploit kit containing fully developed hacking tools ready for use on demand and available as subscription service – that’s exactly what is offered on the dark web in form of exploit kits.
Exploit kits are used by cybercriminals on an industrial scale to distribute malware, ransomware and other threats. They work automatically and can easily be accessed by inexperienced attackers.
What is an Exploit Kit?
Exploit kits pose a major cyber security threat to any business. An exploit kit is a collection of tools used by cybercriminals to conduct drive-by download attacks against vulnerable software programs on the Internet, infecting their victims with malware and spreading further infection.
These kits contain everything needed for aggressive cyberattacks. Criminals can use them to distribute malware without their victim’s knowledge on thousands of machines in just minutes.
These kits are frequently employed in tandem with compromised websites and social engineering techniques to broaden the potential pool of vulnerable users and increase the odds of success.
They’re inexpensive and user-friendly for cybercriminals with less technical knowledge – making them popular on Dark Web hacker forums. Their user-friendly management consoles help monitor campaign performance, targets, and more – such as Magnitude Exploit Kit which has been used against vulnerabilities found in Adobe Flash Player, Microsoft Silverlight and other programs.
How Exploit Kits Work?
Exploit kits are a favorite among cybercriminals as they provide an all-in-one solution. This crimeware-as-a-service model allows even novice attackers to launch attacks effortlessly without requiring advanced technical expertise to create one from scratch. Exploit kits are regularly updated with exploits so as to continue targeting vulnerabilities in widely used software applications.
Once an exploit kit has connected with a user via a malicious landing page, it will identify vulnerabilities to exploit. These usually involve flaws in widely used software applications like browsers and plugins like Java or Flash; once an exploit kit detects such weaknesses it will download and execute malware that compromises host systems and disrupt business operations.
Exploit kits distribute malware that ranges from ransomware to banking trojans, some even being capable of bypassing anti-virus detection software. Therefore, it is crucial for teams and stakeholders to remain up-to-date with cybersecurity best practices as well as make use of various security tools in order to detect suspicious activity quickly.
How an Exploit Kit Attack Is Executed?
Once a cybercriminal has gained entry to their victim’s system, he or she can carry out the rest of their attack. This typically begins with a compromised website that redirects web traffic to an exploit kit landing page carrying code that detects vulnerable browser-based applications; should one be detected, this page launches an exploit that infects it with malware.
Exploit kits often target software with known vulnerabilities, like Adobe Flash Player and Oracle Java, as they have multiple entryways into host environments that exploit kits can target. Exploit kits include all the tools needed for an attack as well as user-friendly management interfaces that help hackers track their campaigns more easily.
Exploit kits are simple for even non-technical attackers to use and can be purchased for an affordable price in hacker forums in the Dark Web, making them highly sought after among criminals looking to increase their malware infection rate.
1. Establish contact
An attacker typically starts their attacks by setting up a landing page online that profiles its victims and examines their web browser and plugins to look for vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
Anti-virus software often makes detection impossible for kits that target vulnerabilities in popular software like Adobe Flash Player, Java and Microsoft Silverlight. They use tricks to bypass detection altogether – an especially dangerous tactic when targeting vulnerabilities in those programs.
Blackhole, Neutrino, RIG and Magnitude are some of the more widely known exploit kits that can help cybercriminals carry out attacks against targets on target websites. All are readily available via underground hacker forums. Crimeware-as-a-service model allows inexperienced attackers to quickly gain access and launch destructive attacks with little risk. This has been made easier due to many of these kits being modular; new exploits can be added at any time when necessary – for instance, after the Hacking Team data breach occurred early 2015, exploit code revealed was quickly added into various exploit kits within days.
After an attacker has established a compromised site or malicious advertisement, they need to direct visitors. One method is known as watering hole attacks: attackers use compromised websites to secretly redirect web traffic directly into an exploit kit using an iframe redirect, with landing pages featuring code that profiles victims for any vulnerabilities on devices or browser applications.
Once fingerprinting has been completed, the kit uses its exploits to find vulnerabilities which match up with one of its exploits, then runs that particular exploit to infiltrate the host environment with malware.
At times, this can signal the start of a drive-by download; that is, an attacker has installed their malware without informing or receiving consent from their victim. Malware like this often aims to steal information such as saved passwords, online banking credentials, credit card details, FTP login credentials and clipboard hijacking data – stolen through either ads hosted on compromised websites or malvertising campaigns such as those seen with Flashpack and GrandSoft exploit kits.
Exploit kits simplify cyberattacks and assist attackers in reaching their objectives of spreading malware, stealing data or mining cryptocurrency. Common cyberattacks include ransomware, remote access trojans and login credential gathering software that exploit vulnerabilities in popular software applications and websites.
Once an exploit kit identifies a potentially vulnerable host environment, it will attempt to infiltrate it with malware using multiple techniques – including malvertising — by serving malicious ads via legitimate advertising networks.
Advertisements tailored to current news cycles or trends often lure victims to malicious websites where malware will execute, potentially infecting devices with ransomware or remote access trojan. Because such attacks can be scaled and automated easily, exploit kits are popular tools among cybercriminals with limited technical knowledge – they’re widely available on the dark web and can even be rented by subscription; once deployed they can quickly exploit multiple vulnerabilities simultaneously and typically include everything needed to launch attacks against their targets.
Once an exploit kit identifies a vulnerable computer, it can begin downloading and installing malware silently and automatically as its victim browses the Internet.
Social engineering or malvertising techniques are commonly employed by attackers to lure victims into clicking links or ads that lead them directly to exploit kit landing pages, where they then scan devices for vulnerabilities based on OS, browser version and software version as well as installed languages or IP addresses that could indicate user location.
These kits are often modular in construction, enabling attackers to quickly add exploits or bypass detection quickly. Furthermore, many include user interfaces so attackers don’t require high levels of skill when conducting attacks.
Exploit kits can be used to infiltrate various devices and deliver various forms of malware payloads such as banking trojans, ransomware and spam bots – dangerous tools used by cybercriminals who aim to automate their attacks against large numbers of computers. Patch management offers one effective defense against exploit kits: by automatically checking for updates and applying patches or hotfixes to all your systems and applications automatically.
Ways to Protect Against Exploit Kit Attacks
Organizations face daily attacks from exploit kits which install ransomware, mining malware and more. Malvertising campaigns often serve as the vehicle for such threats to spread.
They streamline cyberattacks by targeting vulnerabilities in outdated software, targeting hackers and small-time malicious actors who lack technical skills and using compromised credentials from data breaches to expand their reach.
Stages of an Exploit Kit Attack
Once a target has been lured into clicking on false advertising or some form of malware link, an exploit kit quietly probes their device for vulnerabilities and exploits these weaknesses to deploy malware payloads onto it and gain entry.
Exploit kits are collections of software tools used together to compromise systems or networks, typically sold or rented through criminal-oriented forums and designed to assist cybercriminals without advanced technical skills in executing attacks.
Many of these kits contain modules that utilize HTTP requests to fingerprint devices, then run this information against an extensive library of known vulnerabilities. This data is then compared against operating systems, web browsers or plugins such as Adobe Flash or Java in order to identify potential weaknesses.
Vulnerabilities Targeted by Exploit Kits
Exploit kits take advantage of vulnerabilities found in popular software, like Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Adobe Flash to find targets to exploit. Furthermore, they employ techniques designed to evade detection by antimalware tools in order to increase their chances of successfully infecting victims.
Most criminals lack the time or skills required to develop their own exploits, so they rely on commercial kits as part of a crimeware-as-a-service model that allows even inexperienced attackers to join cybercrime economies and make money through cybercrime.
Exploit kit developers continually update their offerings to take advantage of newly discovered vulnerabilities in popular software. In addition, they introduce user-friendly web interfaces for managing attack campaigns and various tracking functions so attackers can keep tabs on their progress – some may even provide technical support to their clients.
Types of Vulnerabilities Targeted
Exploit kits may target zero-day vulnerabilities, but most attacks rely on older vulnerabilities with patches available for them. Once found on an individual’s device, malware is downloaded and executed against it.
Exploit kits offer criminals looking to launch large-scale cyberattacks an appealing option, particularly if they lack the skills and resources necessary to build their own attack infrastructure from scratch. Some kits even incorporate features to bypass antimalware detection solutions and increase their chances of success.
Attackers utilize various tactics to draw victims to their landing pages, such as social engineering and malvertisements. Exploit kits may also be hosted on compromised or malicious websites or buried within legitimate ads that contain malware-infected advertisements served via legitimate ad networks.
Why Exploit Kit Attacks Are Successful?
Cybercriminals employ social engineering and spammed email as tools to lure victims to exploit kit servers, where their exploit kit will evaluate whether it can successfully execute its exploitation operations and infect the host environment with malware.
Based on the type of attack, malware could include anything from ransomware to financial Trojans like Snifula. Criminals also benefit from kits which offer additional functions for them to exploit.
Exploit kits have another unique characteristic that sets them apart: their availability as crimeware-as-a-service on hacker forums. This makes the kits accessible even to attackers with minimal technical expertise, leading to their increasing usage globally by attackers worldwide.
How to Protect Against Exploit Kits?
As cybercriminals increasingly target users with exploit kits, it’s imperative that we protect ourselves by employing multilayered security systems that scan devices, detect vulnerabilities and apply patches automatically.
Unwittingly and intentionally, many users present attackers with an increased attack surface by running outdated versions of software with known vulnerabilities – an approach known as the “watering hole” method of cyberattacks.
Exploit kits are popular among cybercriminals because they act like crimeware – utility programs sold or rented out on malicious hacker forums for use by attackers with minimal technical skill, expanding the pool of potential victims.
Once a victim navigates to one of these malicious websites or clicks on an advertisment in an email, these tools take effect and begin their work.
Exploit kits allow threat actors to automate a series of steps that result in the delivery of malware payloads to victims’ devices while they browse the web, providing cybercriminals a convenient method for mass distributing ransomware, remote access trojans (RATs) or other malicious software.
Adobe Flash vulnerabilities have long dominated the security scene; however, as they’re gradually being phased out of use by enterprises and users alike, exploit kit operators have turned their focus toward Internet Explorer bugs instead. Since IE can also be found in enterprise networks and hence highly desirable targets for attackers, their top performing exploit kits.