Stuxnet, Duqu, Stars And Galaxies…

NGC 6745 produces material densities sufficien...

In few circumstances I happen to deal with my old (and short) career of Astrophysical. Except when I enjoy to tell my friends the history of the Hubble Constant, and my delusion when I discovered that its value is greater than 50 (most precise determination is 72 ± 8 km/s/Mpc implying a forever expanding Universe which will likely  die of Entropy), the chances in which my current activity, information security, and my “would-have-been” career of Astrophysics overlap are really rare.

You may imagine how surprised I have been, when I came across this post by F-Secure concerning the Duqu malware and the images hidden inside the traffic generated by the malware and directed to the C&C Server.

Typically keyloggers try to hide the malicious traffic by resembling legitimate traffic, and of course the infamous Stuxnet-based keylogger is not an exception to this schema, by making the transfer look innocent in case somebody is watching network traffic.

Duqu connects to a server ( a.k.a. – which used to be in India) and sends an http request. The server will respond with a blank JPG image. After which Duqu sends back a 56kB JPG file called dsc00001.jpg and appends the stolen information (encrypted with AES) to the end of the image file.
Even if somebody is watching outbound traffic, this wouldn’t look too weird.

Nothing new except the fact that Duqu components contain different JPG files. One of them is an image of the Hubble Space Telescope: NGC 6745 also dubbed Bird’s Head (have a deep look to the image and you will discover why).

From Wikipedia:

NGC 6745 (also known as UGC 11391) is an irregular galaxy about 206 million light-years (63.5 mega-parsecs) away in the constellation Lyra. It is actually a triplet of galaxies in the process of colliding.

Why did they decide to insert an astronomical image? And why just an Image representing three galaxies colliding? A possible metaphorical reference to a cyber war between three nations? The curiosity has stimulated a funny contest by F-Secure even if no interpretation, so far, seems convincing (I also tried to brainstorm but unfortunately my residual notions of Astronomy are not enough, so at first Glance I was not able to find any correspondence.

From an information security perspective, I could not help but notice that this is not the only overlapping between Stuxnet and Astronomy. As a matter of fact the original version of Stuxnet is programmed to automatically switch off on June, 24th 2012: even if a remind to the alleged End of the World according to the Mayan Calendar is unavoidable, this date is also linked to the so-called Grand Cross, corresponding to the date that Pluto in Capricorn squares off against Uranus in Aries.

But there is also another funny aspect and coincidence: do you remember the alleged Stuxnet-like worm that Iran claimed to have detected on April 25 2011? Curiously it was called Stars, and although no evidences of the malware (and not even samples as far as I know) were collected, so that many Information Security experts stated Iran was crying wolf, again the malware was dubbed with a term recalling astronomy. At this point I inevitably (and joyfully) wonder if Stars derived its name from hidden stellar images as in case of Duqu.

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