Behind the CARBANAK Backdoor

In this blog, we will take a closer look at the powerful, versatile
backdoor known as CARBANAK (aka Anunak). Specifically, we will
focus on the operational details of its use over the past few years,
including its configuration, the minor variations observed from sample
to sample, and its evolution. With these details, we will then draw
some conclusions about the operators of CARBANAK. For some additional
background on the CARBANAK backdoor, see the papers by Kaspersky
and Group-IB
and Fox-It

Technical Analysis

Before we dive into the meat of this blog, a brief technical
analysis of the backdoor is necessary to provide some context.
CARBANAK is a full-featured backdoor with data-stealing capabilities
and a plugin architecture. Some of its capabilities include key
logging, desktop video capture, VNC, HTTP form grabbing, file system
management, file transfer, TCP tunneling, HTTP proxy, OS destruction,
POS and Outlook data theft and reverse shell. Most of these
data-stealing capabilities were present in the oldest variants of
CARBANAK that we have seen and some were added over time.

Monitoring Threads

The backdoor may optionally start one or more threads that perform
continuous monitoring for various purposes, as described in Table 1.  

Thread Name


Key logger

Logs key strokes for configured
processes and sends them to the command and control (C2)

Form grabber

Monitors HTTP traffic for form data
and sends it to the C2 server

POS monitor

Monitors for changes to logs stored
in C:\NSB\Coalition\Logs and nsb.pos.client.log and sends
parsed data to the C2 server

PST monitor

Searches recursively for newly
created Outlook personal storage table (PST) files within user
directories and sends them to the C2 server

HTTP proxy monitor

Monitors HTTP traffic for requests
sent to HTTP proxies, saves the proxy address and credentials
for future use

Table 1: Monitoring threads


In addition to its file management capabilities, this data-stealing
backdoor supports 34 commands that can be received from the C2 server.
After decryption, these 34 commands are plain text with parameters
that are space delimited much like a command line. The command and
parameter names are hashed before being compared by the binary, making
it difficult to recover the original names of commands and parameters.
Table 2 lists these commands.

Command Hash

Command Name




Runs each command specified in the
configuration file (see the Configuration section).



Updates the state value (see the Configuration



Desktop video recording



Downloads executable and injects into new



Ammyy Admin tool



Updates self



Add/Update klgconfig (analysis incomplete)



Starts HTTP proxy



Renders computer unbootable by wiping the



Reboots the operating system



Creates a network tunnel



Adds new C2 server or proxy address for
pseudo-HTTP protocol



Adds new C2 server for custom binary



Creates or deletes Windows user account



Enables concurrent RDP (analysis



Adds Notification Package (analysis



Deletes file or service



Adds command to the configuration file (see
the Configuration section)



Downloads executable and injects directly
into new process



Send Windows accounts details to
the C2 server



Takes a screenshot of the desktop
and sends it to the C2 server



Backdoor sleeps until specified date






Upload files to the C2 server



Runs VNC plugin



Runs specified executable file



Uninstalls backdoor



Returns list of running processes
to the C2 server



Change C2 protocol used by plugins



Download and execute shellcode from
specified address



Terminates the first process
found specified by name



Initiates a reverse shell to the C2



Plugin control



Updates backdoor

Table 2: Supported Commands


A configuration file resides in a file under the backdoor’s
installation directory with the .bin extension. It contains commands
in the same form as those listed in Table 2 that are automatically
executed by the backdoor when it is started. These commands are also
executed when the loadconfig command is issued. This file can be
likened to a startup script for the backdoor. The state command sets a
global variable containing a series of Boolean values represented as
ASCII values ‘0’ or ‘1’ and also adds itself to the configuration
file. Some of these values indicate which C2 protocol to use, whether
the backdoor has been installed, and whether the PST monitoring thread
is running or not. Other than the state command, all commands in the
configuration file are identified by their hash’s decimal value
instead of their plain text name. Certain commands, when executed, add
themselves to the configuration so they will persist across (or be
part of) reboots. The loadconfig and state commands are executed
during initialization, effectively creating the configuration file if
it does not exist and writing the state command to it.

Figure 1 and Figure 2 illustrate some sample, decoded configuration
files we have come across in our investigations.

Figure 1: Configuration file that adds new C2
server and forces the data-stealing backdoor to use it

Figure 2: Configuration file that adds TCP
tunnels and records desktop video

Command and Control

CARBANAK communicates to its C2 servers via pseudo-HTTP or a custom
binary protocol.

Pseudo-HTTP Protocol

Messages for the pseudo-HTTP protocol are delimited with the ‘|’
character. A message starts with a host ID composed by concatenating a
hash value generated from the computer’s hostname and MAC address to a
string likely used as a campaign code. Once the message has been
formatted, it is sandwiched between an additional two fields of
randomly generated strings of upper and lower case alphabet
characters. An example of a command polling message and a response to
the listprocess command are given in Figure 3 and Figure 4, respectively.

Figure 3: Example command polling message

Figure 4: Example command response message

Messages are encrypted using Microsoft’s implementation of RC2 in
CBC mode with PKCS#5 padding. The encrypted message is then Base64
encoded, replacing all the ‘/’ and ‘+’ characters with the ‘.’ and ‘-’
characters, respectively. The eight-byte initialization vector (IV) is
a randomly generated string consisting of upper and lower case
alphabet characters. It is prepended to the encrypted and encoded message.

The encoded payload is then made to look like a URI by having a
random number of ‘/’ characters inserted at random locations within
the encoded payload. The malware then appends a script extension (php,
bml, or cgi) with a random number of random parameters or a file
extension from the following list with no parameters: gif, jpg, png,
htm, html, php.

This URI is then used in a GET or POST request. The body of the POST
request may contain files contained in the cabinet format. A sample
GET request is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Sample pseudo-HTTP beacon

The pseudo-HTTP protocol uses any proxies discovered by the HTTP
proxy monitoring thread or added by the adminka command. The backdoor
also searches for proxy configurations to use in the registry at
HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings and
for each profile in the Mozilla Firefox configuration file at %AppData%\Mozilla\Firefox\<ProfileName>\prefs.js.

Custom Binary Protocol

Figure 6 describes the structure of the malware’s custom binary
protocol. If a message is larger than 150 bytes, it is compressed with
an unidentified algorithm. If a message is larger than 4096 bytes, it
is broken into compressed chunks. This protocol has undergone several
changes over the years, each version building upon the previous
version in some way. These changes were likely introduced to render
existing network signatures ineffective and to make signature creation
more difficult.

Figure 6: Binary protocol message format

Version 1

In the earliest version of the binary protocol, we have discovered
that the message bodies that are stored in the <chunkData> field
are simply XORed with the host ID. The initial message is not
encrypted and contains the host ID.

Version 2

Rather than using the host ID as the key, this version uses a random
XOR key between 32 and 64 bytes in length that is generated for each
session. This key is sent in the initial message.

Version 3

Version 3 adds encryption to the headers. The first 19 bytes of the
message headers (up to the <hdrXORKey2> field) are XORed with a
five-byte key that is randomly generated per message and stored in the
<hdrXORKey2> field. If the <flag> field of the message
header is greater than one, the XOR key used to encrypt message bodies
is iterated in reverse when encrypting and decrypting messages.

Version 4

This version adds a bit more complexity to the header encryption
scheme. The headers are XOR encrypted with <hdrXORKey1> and
<hdrXORKey2> combined and reversed.

Version 5

Version 5 is the most sophisticated of the binary protocols we have
seen. A 256-bit AES session key is generated and used to encrypt both
message headers and bodies separately. Initially, the key is sent to
the C2 server with the entire message and headers encrypted with the
RSA key exchange algorithm. All subsequent messages are encrypted with
AES in CBC mode. The use of public key cryptography makes decryption
of the session key infeasible without the C2 server’s private key.

The Roundup

We have rounded up 220 samples of the CARBANAK backdoor and compiled
a table that highlights some interesting details that we were able to
extract. It should be noted that in most of these cases the backdoor
was embedded as a packed payload in another executable or in a
weaponized document file of some kind. The MD5 hash is for the
original executable file that eventually launches CARBANAK, but the
details of each sample were extracted from memory during execution.
This data provides us with a unique insight into the operational
aspect of CARBANAK and can be downloaded here.

Protocol Evolution

As described earlier, CARBANAK’s binary protocol has undergone
several significant changes over the years. Figure 7 illustrates a
rough timeline of this evolution based on the compile times of samples
we have in our collection. This may not be entirely accurate because
our visibility is not complete, but it gives us a general idea as to
when the changes occurred. It has been observed that some builds of
this data-stealing backdoor use outdated versions of the protocol.
This may suggest multiple groups of operators compiling their own
builds of this data-stealing backdoor independently.

Figure 7: Timeline of binary protocol versions

*It is likely that we are missing an earlier build that utilized
version 3.

Build Tool

Most of CARBANAK’s strings are encrypted in order to make analysis
more difficult. We have observed that the key and the cipher texts for
all the encrypted strings are changed for each sample that we have
encountered, even amongst samples with the same compile time. The RC2
key used for the HTTP protocol has also been observed to change among
samples with the same compile time. These observations paired with the
use of campaign codes that must be configured denote the likely
existence of a build tool.

Rapid Builds

Despite the likelihood of a build tool, we have found 57 unique
compile times in our sample set, with some of the compile times being
quite close in proximity. For example, on May 20, 2014, two builds
were compiled approximately four hours apart and were configured to
use the same C2 servers. Again, on July 30, 2015, two builds were
compiled approximately 12 hours apart.

What changes in the code can we see in such short time intervals
that would not be present in a build tool? In one case, one build was
programmed to execute the runmem command for a file named wi.exe while
the other was not. This command downloads an executable from the C2
and directly runs it in memory. In another case, one build was
programmed to check for the existence of the domain in the
trusted sites list for Internet Explorer while the other was not.
Blizko is an online money transfer service. We have also seen that
different monitoring threads from Table 1 are enabled from build to
build. These minor changes suggest that the code is quickly modified
and compiled to adapt to the needs of the operator for particular targets.

Campaign Code and Compile Time Correlation

In some cases, there is a close proximity of the compile time of a
CARBANAK sample to the month specified in a particular campaign code.
Figure 8 shows some of the relationships that can be observed in our
data set.

Campaign Code

Compile Date































Figure 8: Campaign code to compile time relationships

Recent Updates

Recently, 64 bit variants of the backdoor have been discovered. We
shared details about such variants in a recent blog
. Some of these variants are programmed to sleep until a
configured activation date when they will become active.


The “Carbanak Group”

Much of the publicly released reporting surrounding the CARBANAK
malware refers to a corresponding “Carbanak Group”, who appears to be
behind the malicious activity associated with this data-stealing
backdoor. FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence has tracked several separate
overarching campaigns employing the CARBANAK tool and other associated
backdoors, such as DRIFTPIN (aka Toshliph). With the data
available at this time, it is unclear how interconnected these
campaigns are – if they are all directly orchestrated by the same
criminal group, or if these campaigns were perpetrated by loosely
affiliated actors sharing malware and techniques.


In all Mandiant investigations to date where the CARBANAK backdoor
has been discovered, the activity has been attributed to the FIN7
threat group. FIN7 has been extremely active against the U.S.
restaurant and hospitality industries since mid-2015.

FIN7 uses CARBANAK as a post-exploitation tool in later phases of an
intrusion to cement their foothold in a network and maintain access,
frequently using the video command to monitor users and learn about
the victim network, as well as the tunnel command to proxy connections
into isolated portions of the victim environment. FIN7 has
consistently utilized legally purchased code signing certificates to
sign their CARBANAK payloads. Finally, FIN7 has leveraged several new
techniques that we have not observed in other CARBANAK related activity.

We have covered recent FIN7 activity in previous public blog posts:

The FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence MySIGHT Portal contains additional
information on our investigations and observations into FIN7 activity.

Widespread Bank Targeting Throughout the U.S., Middle East and Asia

Proofpoint initially reported on a widespread
campaign targeting banks and financial organizations
the U.S. and Middle East in early 2016. We identified several
additional organizations in these regions, as well as in Southeast
Asia and Southwest Asia being targeted by the same attackers.

This cluster of activity persisted from late 2014 into early 2016.
Most notably, the infrastructure utilized in this campaign overlapped
with LAZIOK, NETWIRE and other malware targeting similar financial
entities in these regions.


DRIFTPIN (aka Spy.Agent.ORM, and Toshliph) has been
previously associated with CARBANAK in various campaigns. We have seen
it deployed in initial spear phishing by FIN7 in the first half of
2016.  Also, in late 2015, ESET
reported on CARBANAK associated attacks
, detailing a spear
phishing campaign targeting Russian and Eastern European banks using
DRIFTPIN as the malicious payload. Cyphort Labs also revealed that
variants of DRIFTPIN associated with this cluster of activity had been
deployed via
the RIG exploit kit placed on two compromised Ukrainian banks’ websites.

FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence observed this wave of spear phishing
aimed at a large array of targets, including U.S. financial
institutions and companies associated with Bitcoin trading and mining
activities. This cluster of activity continues to be active now to
this day, targeting similar entities. Additional details on this
latest activity are available on the FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence
MySIGHT Portal.

Earlier CARBANAK Activity

In December 2014, Group-IB and Fox-IT released a report about an
organized criminal group using malware
called "Anunak"
that has targeted Eastern European
banks, U.S. and European point-of-sale systems and other entities. Kaspersky
released a similar report
about the same group under the name
"Carbanak" in February 2015. The name “Carbanak” was coined
by Kaspersky in this report – the malware authors refer to the
backdoor as Anunak.

This activity was further linked to the 2014 exploitation of ATMs in
Ukraine. Additionally, some of this early activity shares a similarity
with current FIN7 operations – the use of Power Admin PAExec for
lateral movement.


The details that can be extracted from CARBANAK provide us with a
unique insight into the operational details behind this data-stealing
malware. Several inferences can be made when looking at such data in
bulk as we discussed above and are summarized as follows:

  1. Based upon the information we have observed, we believe that
    at least some of the operators of CARBANAK either have access to the
    source code directly with knowledge on how to modify it or have a
    close relationship to the developer(s).
  2. Some of the
    operators may be compiling their own builds of the backdoor
  3. A build tool is likely being used by these
    attackers that allows the operator to configure details such as C2
    addresses, C2 encryption keys, and a campaign code. This build tool
    encrypts the binary’s strings with a fresh key for each build.
  4. Varying campaign codes indicate that independent or loosely
    affiliated criminal actors are employing CARBANAK in a wide-range of
    intrusions that target a variety of industries but are especially
    directed at financial institutions across the globe, as well as the
    restaurant and hospitality sectors within the U.S.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Threat Research Blog authored by Threat Research Blog. Read the original post at: