It turns out that viruses do try to conceal their ZIP files

July 6, 2016

One of the interesting things that happens when you start to log information about what types of files your users get in email is that you get to discover certain sorts of questionable things that people actually do ('people' in a loose sense). Here's one interesting MIME part, extracted from our logs:

attachment application/octet-stream; MIME file ext: .jpeg; zip exts: .js

The 'attachment' bit is the Content-Disposition and the nominal MIME type comes from the Content-Type. The MIME filename (which came either from Content-Type or Content-Disposition) had a .jpeg extension; however, our logging program found that the attachment actually was a ZIP file with a single .js file inside it, not a JPG image. Our anti-spam software later identified it as malware.

(I didn't set out to write an attachment type logging program that did content sniffing, but the Python zipfile module has a very convenient function for it and it's much simpler to structure the code that way instead of trying to maintain a list of file extensions and/or Content-Types that correspond to ZIP files.)

I vaguely knew that any number of file formats were actually ZIP files under the hood; there's .jar files, for example, and a number of the modern '* office' suites and programs use ZIP as their underlying format. Our file type logging program has peered inside any number of those sorts of attachments (as well as inside regular .zip attachments). I also knew that it was theoretically possible for bad actors to try to smuggle ZIP files through as some other file type. But I didn't expect to see it, especially so fast.

(To be fair, most malware does seem to stick to .zip files, not infrequently even with real MIME Content-Types. I suspect that malware wants to make it easy for people to open up the bad stuff that it sends them.)

PS: Hopefully no real content filtering software is fooled by this sort of transparent ruse. It's not as if ZIP archives are hard to detect. Sadly, that (some) malware does this kind of thing makes me suspect that some important software actually is defeated by it.

PPS: All of the cases seem to be from the same malware run, based on how they all happened today and have various other indicators in common.

Written on 06 July 2016.
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Last modified: Wed Jul 6 01:31:39 2016
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