ASUS Live Update server got hacked - over a million PCs infected

Posted on Tuesday, March 26 2019 @ 16:02 CET by Thomas De Maesschalck
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Kaspersky Labs reports possibly over a million of PCs got infected by spyware hackers penetrated the ASUS Live Update service. The attack took place between June and November 2018. The hackers replaced the files on the official ASUS servers with a trojanized version and even gave them legitimate certificates signed by ASUSTeK Computer Inc.

Called Operation ShadowHammer, the attack was extremely specific, the goal was not monetary or to wreak havoc, but to spy on a select group of users. Which country was behind the attack and who the intended victims were is unknown. Kaspersky says the malware samples they intercepted contained over 600 unique MAC addresses that were hard coded into the trojanized software.

Only on systems with these MAC addresses did the malware install extra spyware. The attack on the ASUS Live Update service classifies as one of the biggest and most sophisticated supply chain attacks to date.
We believe this to be a very sophisticated supply chain attack, which matches or even surpasses the Shadowpad and the CCleaner incidents in complexity and techniques. The reason that it stayed undetected for so long is partly due to the fact that the trojanized updaters were signed with legitimate certificates (eg: “ASUSTeK Computer Inc.”). The malicious updaters were hosted on the official liveupdate01s.asus[.]com and liveupdate01.asus[.]com ASUS update servers.
More info via Kaspersky.

In a public statement, ASUS downplays the event, saying "a small number" of devices have been implanted with malicious code in effort to target a very small and specific user group:
ASUS response to the recent media reports regarding ASUS Live Update tool attack by Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups

Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks are national-level attacks usually initiated by a couple of specific countries, targeting certain international organizations or entities instead of consumers.

ASUS Live Update is a proprietary tool supplied with ASUS notebook computers to ensure that the system always benefits from the latest drivers and firmware from ASUS. A small number of devices have been implanted with malicious code through a sophisticated attack on our Live Update servers in an attempt to target a very small and specific user group. ASUS customer service has been reaching out to affected users and providing assistance to ensure that the security risks are removed.

ASUS has also implemented a fix in the latest version (ver. 3.6.8) of the Live Update software, introduced multiple security verification mechanisms to prevent any malicious manipulation in the form of software updates or other means, and implemented an enhanced end-to-end encryption mechanism. At the same time, we have also updated and strengthened our server-to-end-user software architecture to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future.

Additionally, we have created an online security diagnostic tool to check for affected systems, and we encourage users who are still concerned to run it as a precaution. The tool can be found here:

Users who have any additional concerns are welcome to contact ASUS Customer Service.

More information about APT groups:

How do I know whether or not my device has been targeted by the malware attack?
Only a very small number of specific user group were found to have been targeted by this attack and as such it is extremely unlikely that your device has been targeted. However, if you are still concerned about this matter, feel free to use ASUS’ security diagnostic tool or contact ASUS Customer Service for assistance.

What should I do if my device is affected?
Immediately run a backup of your files and restore your operating system to factory settings. This will completely remove the malware from your computer. In order to ensure the security of your information, ASUS recommends that you regularly update your passwords.

How do I make sure that I have the latest version of ASUS Live Update?
You can find out whether or not you have the latest version of ASUS Live Update by following the instructions shown in the link below:

Have other ASUS devices been affected by the malware attack?
No, only the version of Live Update used for notebooks has been affected. All other devices remain unaffected.

About the Author

Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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