Cybercriminals Integrate Exploit for CVE-2018-8174 into Numerous Attack Tools

The CVE-2018-8174 vulnerability, also dubbed “Double Kill,” was discovered in the beginning of May 2018, when it was exploited as a 0-day in an APT attack leveraging malicious Office files in China. The vulnerability affects users with Internet Explorer installed, either after they browse the web or after they open crafted Office documents – even if the default browser on the victim’s machine is not set to IE. Moreover, it will also affect IE11, even though VBScript is no longer supported by using the compatibility tag for IE10. Microsoft patched the vulnerability on May 8, 2018.

Our monitoring revealed that since its discovery, various threat actors in the Russian underground hacking scene have shown a keen interest in this particular vulnerability, indicating their strong intent to exploit it in attacks. Since then, we have observed exploits for this vulnerability incorporated into several prominent attack tools used by Russian threat actors, including the RIG Exploit Kit and the Threadkit package of Office exploits indicating that cybercriminals see it as a profitable attack vector. Concurrently, security reports state the exploitation of this vulnerability has been witnessed in additional attack campaigns.

The CVE-2018-8174 Exploit

The vulnerability exists in the VBScript – incorporated both in the Internet Explorer browser and in Microsoft Office software. Being a use-after-free (UAF) memory vulnerability, it is particularly dangerous because of the enabling of the execution of arbitrary code, or, in some cases, full remote code execution, due to access to read and write primitives.

The APT attack spotted in China, later attributed to North Korean threat actors, used the URL Moniker technique to load the VisualBasic exploit leveraging CVE-2017-8174 into the Office process. Unlike previously-known Office exploits that used the same technique, the URL link in the current exploit calls the mshtml.dll, which is a library that contains the Visual Basic engine in Internet Explorer. Thus, albeit delivered via a Word document as the initial attack vector, the exploit takes advantage of a vulnerability in VBScript, and not in Microsoft Word.

This attack vector allows the attackers to incorporate Internet Explorer Browser exploits directly into Office documents, enabling them to use it via spear-phishing and drive-by campaigns. Immediately upon its discovery, it was estimated that the vulnerability would be exploited in multiple attack campaigns in the near future.

The in-the wild exploit consisted of three stages:

  • Delivery of a malicious Word document
  • Once opened, an HTML page containing a VBScript code is downloaded to the victim’s machine
  • A UAF vulnerability is triggered, and shellcode is executed

Microsoft Office alert pops-up when opening the crafted document
Microsoft Office alert pops-up when opening the crafted document

In less than two weeks, the exploit for CVE-2018-8174 was incorporated into the Metasploit framework. At the same time, we have spotted vigorous chatter regarding this vulnerability emerging on underground sources, in particular Russian-languages ones. Threat actors sought to purchase the exploit, and others shared PoC samples for the explicit purpose of their analysis and further modification.

CVE-2018-8174 exploit is mentioned on underground chatter. Source: Verint DarkAlert
CVE-2018-8174 exploit is mentioned on underground chatter. Source: Verint DarkAlert

Moreover, and in accordance with predictions made by security researchers, exploitation of this vulnerability was included in some of the most popular attack tools on the Russian underground. Of note, operators of malware targeting both Microsoft Office and IE browser announced the addition of the exploit to their attack tools, indicating that the malicious payload is to be delivered by one of these two vulnerable software types. As explained above, the attack vector can be a malicious Microsoft Office file that will trigger the launch of IE browser, even if not configured as the default browser, or a crafted URL link directly provided to the target.

We detected an exploit for CVE-2018-8174 added to the following attack tools traded on the Russian underground:

  • The RIG exploit kit[1] – in the wild attacks using this exploit to deliver the Monero Miner were already spotted.

    The RIG campaign’s infection chain. Source: Trend Micro
    The RIG campaign’s infection chain. Source: Trend Micro
  • The Threadkit Office exploits package – the modified version that includes the CVE-2018-8174 exploit is yet to be discovered in the wild. However, the malware’s author already announced its incorporation several days ago. The update for the kit will cost US$ 400.
  • Another Office exploits package – the new version includes exploits for the following vulnerabilities: CVE-2018-8174, CVE-2018-0802, CVE-2017-11882 and CVE-2017-8570.

    Exploit for CVE-2018-8174 is added to another office exploitation package. Source: Verint Dark Alert
    Exploit for CVE-2018-8174 is added to another office exploitation package. Source: Verint Dark Alert

Sharp Rise in Mining-Related Malware on the Russian-speaking Underground

Verint’s powerful portfolio of interception and monitoring solutions provides full monitoring and operational value. Dedicated systems address separate real-time and retroactive investigation needs, for lawful monitoring, field operations and background research. In the case below, we have used our Cyber and Webint suite to constantly monitor, collect and analyze malware-related items, to gain actionable intelligence and perform the investigation.

We constantly monitor groups, markets and IM channels manually and automatically, in this case, our monitoring has revealed in recent months a sharp rise in mining malware traded on numerous Dark Web forums, where hackers of various underground communities reside. This is hardly surprising, considering the rise in the value of cryptocurrency since late 2017. As a ramification of this trade, in recent months, a sharp rise in mining malware attacks has also been observed.

The rise in the trade in mining malware originates with cybercriminals engaged in attacks against banks and their clients, who are currently opting to focus on attacks designed to bring various kinds of cryptocurrency into their hands. For instance, SenseCy analysts spotted known sellers of banking malware, starting to offer for sale malware related to crypto-currency mining. These attacks can be divided into two types:

  • Infection with mining malware – we have spotted a rise in the trade of mining malware in hacking communities, as well as an increase in the number of discussions related to these types of attacks. This indicates an elevated interest in this field and a shift by hackers previously engaged in other criminal activities to acquiring knowledge and attack tools in the illegal mining field. These attacks are targeting a wide scope of end users and servers, and are designed to take advantage of their systems’ resources to mine cryptocurrency. Along with the slowdown of the infected system, mining malware can sometimes cause significant damage to the hardware, as in the case of the Loapi Android Trojan that worked a phone so hard its battery overheated and burst open the device’s back cover.
  • Attacks against cryptocurrency holders, be they private wallet owners or cryptocurrency exchange platforms. While the former are usually targeted by phishing or Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks designed to steal credentials, the latter is a large-scale attack designed to steal cryptocurrency from the exchange platform. We see a large volume of evidence related to the first type in closed sources, but the second type is usually coordinated outside of hacking forums.

The picture received from our automatic monitoring systems surfaced according to pre-defined queries supports these findings, which were manually identified by our analysts. More than 4,000 mentions of “miner” on password-protected forums were identified in the period between September 1, 2017, and February 24, 2018, compared to just 1,000 for the same period one year earlier. In addition, a sharp rise in the number of discussions can be clearly observed starting from mid-October 2017, following the rise in the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In fact, the number of discussions on hacking-dedicated platforms correlates with the fluctuations in Bitcoin value (with a slight delay of several days).

The number of discussions from password-protected hacking sources in which the word “miner” was mentioned. Source: Verint DarkAlert
The value of Bitcoin in USD during the same period. Source: CoinDesk
The value of Bitcoin in USD during the same period. Source: CoinDesk

For instance, we identified two prominent threat actors from the Russian underground, who usually offer mobile “injections” – fake overlay pages designed to be used along with mobile Trojans to steal user credentials (usually for banking and e-commerce apps.) These threat actors started offering injections targeting users of popular Bitcoin wallets during the same period that the Bitcoin price increased.

Another example is the trade of a new mining malware dubbed CryptoNight, which started two months ago (February 10, 2018). For US$ 50, the author offers a miner for a variety of cryptocurrencies (those that use the CryptoNight or CryptoNight-lite algorithm), with a relatively low detection rate (according to tests run by other forum members). The malware also possesses clipboard stealer capabilities designed to steal credentials of the most popular cryptocurrency wallets (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin and others).


This is an excerpt from the SenseCy 2017 Annual Report. To receive the full version of the report, please contact us at

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