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Researchers spot cryptojacking attack that disables endpoint protections

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Malware recently spotted in the wild uses sophisticated measures to disable antivirus protections, destroy evidence of infection, and permanently infect machines with cryptocurrency-mining software, researchers said Tuesday.

Key to making the unusually complex system of malware operate is a function in the main payload, named GhostEngine, that disables Microsoft Defender or any other antivirus or endpoint-protection software that may be running on the targeted computer. It also hides any evidence of compromise. “The first objective of the GhostEngine malware is to incapacitate endpoint security solutions and disable specific Windows event logs, such as Security and System logs, which record process creation and service registration,” said researchers from Elastic Security Labs, who discovered the attacks.

When it first executes, GhostEngine scans machines for any EDR, or endpoint protection and response, software that may be running. If it finds any, it loads drivers known to contain vulnerabilities that allow attackers to gain access to the kernel, the core of all operating systems that’s heavily restricted to prevent tampering. One of the vulnerable drivers is an anti-rootkit file from Avast named aswArPots.sys. GhostEngine uses it to terminate the EDR security agent. A malicious file named smartscreen.exe then uses a driver from IObit named iobitunlockers.sys to delete the security agent binary.

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