MacroExp – a Combined Social Engineering and Exploit Attack

Combining an executable, usually malicious file with a standard Word or Excel file, unbeknownst to the user, has always been an aspiration for cyber-criminals. With such an asset, they could make the victim unwittingly install the malware, without raising his suspicions or AV vendor alerts when running an executable file. For this reason, requests for such services are frequently posted on underground forums, as cyber criminals search for easy ways to spread their malware files. Occasionally, this demand meets a supply, usually highly priced due to the opportunities it provides.

On this occasion, while monitoring Russian underground forums, we came across an advertisement for an exploit that targets Microsoft Office Word via Visual Basic Scripting for Applications feature. The exploit, referred to as MacroExp v 1.0.5 by the seller, first appeared for sale two days ago (on August 11), for $1,000. The price includes the exploit builder, as well as further updates and technical support.

According to the description on the forum, the exploit binds an executable file with a .doc file, making the .exe invisible to the victim. It is compatible with all Microsoft Office Word versions (2000-2013), as well as Windows OS x86 and x64. Since the presence of the executable file is invisible, it is not detected by AV and IPS systems, or firewalls.

The disadvantage of the method, as described by the seller, is the pop-up of a macro-enabling alert required for the actual running of the executable file. He suggests overcoming this obstacle by using social engineering methods.

A week ago, CISCO reported this attack vector, detected by its researchers, in the wild. It was used in spear-phishing attacks in such industries as banking, oil, television and jewelry. The starting point involved sending a Word file written specifically for the recipient. When clicking on the document, a macro alert popped up. Once enabled, it led to the download of an executable malicious file and launched it on the victim’s computer.

It is difficult to say if the same perpetrators are behind the both attacks, or it is just the same vector that is used in the both cases. On the one hand, one of the CnC domains discovered by CISCO was registered seven years ago, which may indicate that the threat actor has been in operation since at least 2007. On the other hand, the seller connected himself to the CISCO report, claiming that the described attack is his project. Moreover, he mentioned that more than 20 clients were already using the exploit, and that this was not the first version since its release. The matter will become clearer as more cases are identified in the wild, combined with more feedback from buyers on the forum.

Screenshots of the exploit in action uploaded by the sellerScreenshots of the exploit in action uploaded by the sellerScreenshots of the exploit in action uploaded by the seller


2 thoughts on “MacroExp – a Combined Social Engineering and Exploit Attack

  1. Hi Russell,

    No, we do not have samples of the malware. The information that we have is based on the description from the post of the exploit seller.
    The sales of the exploit have started about a week ago, so it might take some time until we’ll see it in the wild.

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