RUSSIAN SECURITY OUTFIT Kaspersky Lab has discovered an espionage network that successfully attacked government institutions, intelligence agencies and European companies.
The firm has dubbed the spy operation Epic Turla, and said that it is in no doubt about its capabilities.
"Over the last 10 months, Kaspersky Lab researchers have analysed a massive cyber-espionage operation which we call 'Epic Turla'," it said.
"The attackers behind Epic Turla have infected several hundred computers in more than 45 countries, including government institutions, embassies, military, education, research and pharmaceutical companies."
Kaspersky said that Epic Turla used two zero-day exploits that affected Adobe and Microsoft software, along with some backdoor and social engineering tricks.
In particular, Kaspersky said a vulnerability in Windows XP and Windows 2003 - CVE-2013-5065 - termed a "privilege escalation vulnerability" is being used. "The CVE-2013-5065 exploit allows the backdoor to achieve administrator privileges on the system and run unrestricted. This exploit only works on unpatched Microsoft Windows XP systems."
The use of this Windows XP flaw underlines the risk that the unsupported Windows XP OS poses. Kaspersky went on to explain that, once inside, attackers install their own rootkits and other malware tools and begin their surveillance.
"Once the attackers obtain the necessary credentials without the victim noticing, they deploy the rootkit and other extreme persistence mechanisms," it said. "The attacks are still ongoing as of July 2014, actively targeting users in Europe and the Middle East."
The attacks are just the latest in a long line of incidents that businesses need to be aware of as cyber attacks continue at an alarming rate.
In June the security firm Crowdstrike alerted the industry to Putter Panda, a cute-sounding but nasty piece of malware. That firm pointed an accusatory finger at China and charged it with espionage on the US and Europe.
Crowdstrike CEO George Kurtz said at the time, "China's decade-long economic espionage campaign is massive and unrelenting. Through widespread espionage campaigns, Chinese threat actors are targeting companies and governments in every part of the globe." Chinese authorities disputed this.
The report comes in the same week Hold Security reported uncovering a huge trove of 1.2 billion web passwords and login details that have been gathered by Russian cyber criminals. µ