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FAQ: Pony Malware Payload Discovery

Our team's discovery of the spoils of yet another instance of Pony 1.9 has kept us busy the past couple of days. We've enjoyed explaining our discovery to journalists and trying our best to answer the questions that arise over social networks and email with each publication of a story.

A lot of those questions tend to be similar. Since we can't possibly respond to each and every one, we thought we'd collect some information that answers the most common questions for anyone who's interested.

Will Trustwave be releasing the data set?
Trustwave has decided that in the majority of cases, we will only release sub-sets of the data and only to certain authorized individuals employed by web sites with domain names included in the data set. Only user-names associated with an authorized individual's domain will be disclosed and, again, only to an authorized representative. We've received a number of requests for the data set and appreciate your patience as we work to respond as soon as we can.

Does the discovery of these compromised credentials suggest that any of the mentioned web sites are insecure?
No. The Pony malware infected end-users' computers and then attempted to capture those users' credentials. Any of the web sites mentioned in relation to our discovery were not compromised nor the cause of this attack.

How can a user protect against Pony malware?
It's important to note that Pony itself is not new and many anti-virus products already include signatures to protect against it. The risk posed by Pony is comparable to other known malware threats and basic data security principles apply in defending against it:

  1. Keep your web browser and any supporting software (such as Adobe Acrobat, Flash and Java) up-to-date and patched
  2. Use anti-virus software and keep it updated
  3. Avoid using the same password at multiple sites
  4. For corporate users, products that monitor web traffic can help prevent exploitation and infection and alert IT staff when an infected machine attempts to communicate to its command and control server (for example, Trustwave Secure Web Gateway).

Read "Two million stolen passwords: How to protect yourself" on the Trustwave website for more information about how end-users can protect themselves.

Where was/were the attacker/attackers located?
We don't know at this time. All we can say is that we found a server in the Netherlands that contained a library of credentials. That fact alone does nothing to confirm the location of the attacker or attackers.

Where are the victims located?
For 96 percent of the victims, we cannot confirm their geographic location because the attacker used a reverse proxy that obfuscates origination and termination points.

Were insufficiently complex passwords a contributor to this attack's success?
Not necessarily. This instance of Pony collected passwords by looking for stored passwords in users' browsers, email clients and other applications and by monitoring web traffic to identify when a user was logging into a service and attempting to capture the password at that time. In this case, regardless of a password's complexity, it could have been captured. Of course, using sufficiently complex passwords is always a good security practice. What we hope people will also learn from this particular incident is the importance of not re-using passwords across multiple accounts. Because if one of your accounts is compromised, with a little work, any other account that uses the same password could potentially be compromised.

Where can I get a hash of the Pony 1.9 malware?
A hash, and more information about the malware, has been available here, care of the VirusTotal service, a subsidiary of Google, since June 2013. ***UPDATE December 9, 2013: The instance of Pony 1.9 we've linked to here was related to a different botnet controller we discovered in June 2013. We apologize for any confusion.***

We hope these answers provided you some additional information to help understand our discovery and our plans for handling the discovered data set.