What counts as ‘malware’? AWS clarifies its definition

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Amazon Web Services had robust phrases this week about analysis printed on a brand new pressure of malware, which was found in its serverless computing service, AWS Lambda.

In an announcement (screengrab shared beneath), the general public cloud large went to some lengths to dispute the findings — and within the course of, made an uncommon assertion.

Specifically, the AWS assertion circulated this week to a number of media retailers together with VentureBeat mischaracterized what constitutes “malware,” numerous safety specialists confirmed.

The assertion got here in response to analysis in regards to the “Denonia” cryptocurrency mining software program, found by Cado Security researchers in a Lambda serverless atmosphere.

From the AWS assertion: “Since the software relies entirely on fraudulently obtained account credentials, it is a distortion of facts to even refer to it as malware because it lacks the ability to gain unauthorized access to any system by itself.”

It’s the second line within the above assertion — “it is a distortion of facts to even refer to it as malware” — that isn’t right, in response to safety specialists.

“Software does not have to gain unauthorized access to a system by itself in order to be considered malware,” mentioned Allan Liska, intelligence analyst at Recorded Future. “In fact, most of the software that we classify as malware does not gain unauthorized access and is instead deployed in a later stage of the attack.”

Malicious intent

Defining the character of a chunk of software program is all in regards to the intention of the particular person utilizing it, in response to Ken Westin, director of safety technique at Cybereason.

Simply put: “If their goal is to compromise an asset or information with it, then it’s considered malware,” Westin mentioned.

Some malware variants do have the potential to autonomously acquire unauthorized entry to programs, mentioned Alexis Dorais-Joncas, safety intelligence staff lead at ESET. One of probably the most well-known circumstances is NotPetya, which massively unfold by itself, through the web, by exploiting a software program vulnerability in Windows, Dorais-Joncas famous.

However, “the vast majority of all programs ESET considers malware do not have that capability,” he mentioned.

Thus, within the case of Denonia, the one issue that basically issues is that the code was supposed to run with out authorization, mentioned Stel Valavanis, founder and CEO of OnShore Security.

“That’s malware by intent,” Valavanis mentioned.

Cryptomining software program

Denonia seemed to be a custom-made variant of XMRig, a well-liked cryptominer, famous Avi Shua, cofounder and CEO at Orca Security.

While XMRig can be utilized for non-malicious cryptomining, the overwhelming majority of safety distributors think about it to be malware, Shua mentioned, citing information from risk intelligence web site VirusTotal.

“It’s pretty clear that [Denonia] was malicious,” he mentioned.

The backside line, in response to Huntress senior risk researcher Greg Ake, is that malware is “software with a malicious intent.”

“I would think a reasonable jury of peers would find software that was installed with the intent to abuse available computer resources — without the owner’s consent, using stolen credentials for personal profit and gain — would be categorized as malicious intent,” Ake mentioned.

Not a worm

Still, whereas Denonia is clearly malware, AWS Lambda just isn’t “vulnerable” to it, per se, in response to Bogdan Botezatu, director of risk analysis and reporting at Bitdefender.

The malware was doubtless planted by means of stolen credentials and “things would have been completely different if the Denonia malware would be able to spread itself from one Labmda instance to another — rather than get copied on instances through stolen credentials,” Botezatu mentioned. “This would make it a worm, which would have devastating consequences.”

And this distinction, in the end, appears to have been the actual level that AWS was making an attempt to make.

VentureBeat contacted AWS for touch upon the truth that many safety specialists don’t agree that deeming Denonia to be malware is a “distortion of facts.” The cloud large responded Friday with a brand new assertion — suggesting that what the corporate meant to say was that Denonia just isn’t actually “Lambda-focused malware.”

“Calling Denonia a Lambda-focused malware is a distortion of fact, as it doesn’t use any vulnerability in the Lambda service,” AWS mentioned within the new assertion.

“Denonia does not target Lambda using any of the actions included in the accepted definition of malware,” the assertion says. “It is simply malicious software configured to successfully execute via Lambda, not because of Lambda or with any Lambda-exclusive gain.”

So there you will have it. The earlier AWS assertion is included beneath.

Screengrab of AWS assertion responding to protection of the “Denonia” analysis, 4/6/22

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