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Google Warns of Heliconia Exploitation Framework

Updated on 2022-12-04: Spyware maker Variston exploited Windows, browser zero-days

Google’s threat hunters obtained a set of exploitation frameworks designed to target Chrome, Firefox and Windows Defender in order to plant spyware, which they say belongs to Barcelona-based commercial surveillance vendor Variston. The code obtained by Google contained clues (likely inadvertently) including a script that was designed to remove references to Variston and its developers from the final binary, suggesting it was behind the exploits (see below).

The code obtained by Google contained clues (likely inadvertently) including a script that was designed to remove references to Variston and its developers from the final binary, suggesting it was behind the exploits.

When reached, Variston’s director Ralf Wegner said he hadn’t seen Google’s findings but didn’t deny the claims either. The bugs are now fixed. Remember, there’s a whole world of spyware outside just NSO… speaking of, the U.S. State Department said this week it’s committed to the “proliferation of foreign commercial spyware,” but says nothing about the ones at home. Read more:

Updated on 2022-12-01: Google Warns of Heliconia Exploitation Framework

In a blog post, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) details its findings about an exploitation framework called Heliconia. The framework appears to be linked to a Spanish company, Variston IT, which lists custom security solutions among its offerings. The “Heliconia framework exploits n-day vulnerabilities in Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Defender and provides all the tools necessary to deploy a payload to a target device.” TAG learned of Heliconia from bug submissions that suggest it was being used to exploit those vulnerabilities in 2018 and 2019. Patches for the various vulnerabilities were released in 2021 and early 2022.

Note

  • As Google points out “ …the commercial surveillance industry is thriving and has expanded significantly in recent years, creating risk for Internet users around the globe.” I’d like to see Google publish the list of the 30 or so commercial spyware vendors they are tracking, to make it easier for companies to both avoid buying from them and detect when attackers are using the tools. But you can find most of Google’s TAG reports to get the names of the companies and the indicators of use.
  • These tools are designed to attack specific vulnerabilities which have been patched. As such, you need to make sure that you’ve deployed the updates to Chrome, Firefox and Defender. Don’t overlook Chromium based browsers. This is a good time to see if you’ve been procrastinating deploying other updates and run that to ground. Don’t let impact deter you from finding a path: work with your business units to find how and when, then support their efforts to senior management.

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Updated on 2022-11-30

Google exposes new spyware vendor

Google’s TAG security team has publicly exposed the identity of a new commercial spyware vendor. Google says that Variston IT, a company based in Barcelona, Spain, is the author of a tool named Heliconia that can exploit vulnerabilities in products such as Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Defender. Google TAG researchers said they linked several past vulnerabilities to Variston’s Heliconia framework. They said that while the vulnerabilities are patched now, they were most likely exploited as zero-days by Heliconia’s customers. Read more: New details on commercial spyware vendor Variston

“TAG became aware of the Heliconia framework when Google received an anonymous submission to the Chrome bug reporting program. The submitter filed three bugs, each with instructions and an archive that contained source code. They used unique names in the bug reports including, ‘Heliconia Noise,’ ‘Heliconia Soft’ and ‘Files.’ TAG analyzed the submissions and found they contained frameworks for deploying exploits in the wild and a script in the source code included clues pointing to the possible developer of the exploitation frameworks, Variston IT.”

Overview

Google’s TAG connected three exploitation frameworks—Heliconia Noise, Heliconia Soft, and Heliconia Files—to a Spanish commercial spyware vendor Variston. Read more: Google Links Exploitation Frameworks to Spanish Spyware Vendor Variston

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