Threat Level: green Handler on Duty: Guy Bruneau

SANS ISC: Treacherous malware: the story of Advatrix SANS ISC InfoSec Forums

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Treacherous malware: the story of Advatrix

Recently I spent some time analyzing a relatively simple BHO (Browser Helper Object) just to see what the bad guys were really doing with it.

The BHO was dropped by an executable, which was part of a bigger adware package pretending to be an anti-virus program (of course). The only dropped file by this dropper was actually the DLL used by the BHO which the dropper registered with the system.

After quick analysis I found out that the BHO captured queries for various search engines and other commonly visited web sites and submitted them to a third web site. That web site had a possibility of displaying various ads on the infected machine (when I tested the BHO that component did not work).

The list of sites that the BHO stole information from was impressive – there were almost 140 sites monitored. For every site, the BHO had information about exactly what to extract, so only the user’s query was sent and not the whole URL.

For example, for, the BHO extracted the search= parameter, while for it extracted the p= parameter.

The extracted parameters where then submitted to a third site (which is not working any more) with the following request:


Two most interesting things in this request are the svPOPUP and svKEYWORDS arguments. The svPOPUP tells the ad site to display targeted ads, related to the keywords submitted in the svKEYWORDS argument. As you can probably guess, those are the search terms that the user entered.

This was all more or less standard, only the number of monitored web sites seemed pretty high – this BHO certainly had a serious impact on a user’s privacy.

After I searched the web a bit, I found out that Elia Florio from Symantec already described another variant of this same BHO which they called Trojan.Advatrix (Symantec's description is here). Besides the information I already had, that particular variant did something else to the machine. Something very, very mean.

Elia found out that the BHO modifies Internet Explorer so that it becomes vulnerable to two security vulnerabilities: MS06-014 known as the MDAC vulnerability and MS07-017, known as the ANI vulnerability.

These two vulnerabilities are probably the most exploited vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer today. The MS06-014 vulnerability is practically a part of every exploit pack today (and is certainly in MPACK, which is the most popular one). Exploits for the ANI vulnerability can also still be found almost everywhere.

What makes me extremely worried is how hidden this whole thing is. The BHO just modifies Internet Explorer’s image which means that no files are written to the disk. In other words, such a machine will look completely patched to Windows Update or any other patch checking system. However, while the BHO is active, the machine will be vulnerable to two most exploited client side vulnerabilities in last couple of years.

The last line of defense, the anti-virus program, is not particularly helpful here either. The dropper I had was detected by only 13 out of 32 AV programs on VirusTotal and the DLL detection was even worse with only 7 AV programs detecting it.

While there are many lessons to learn from this malware, I would like to stress out one really important thing: when a machine gets infected, your only option is to reinstall it from scratch. With today’s malware phoning home and installing stealth, updated modules, this is really a no brainer.



I will be teaching next: Web App Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking - SANS Munich February 2022


400 Posts
ISC Handler
Nov 29th 2007
Looks like an excellent example of why it's good practice to follow your vulnerability scans with pen tests.

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