Shortcuts, or LNK files, are small binary files which have the path to an applications, sometimes with optional parameters. These files are used for running applications and are placed on folders where they are easy to access by users on such places as Desktops, and Application Launchers. The LNK files are also placed within the Startup folder to run automatically upon system boot. This indirect way of running applications is often attractive to malware authors as shortcuts have not been called out to most user’s attention for the sake of security as much as executable files have. At Avert Labs, we have recently seen some malware abusing shortcut files to launch malicious files/scripts in several different ways. Here, we introduce some methods we have recently seen:
- Create shortcut files linking to malware files
- Parasitic Infection to shortcuts
- Scripts in the shortcuts
This is an easy way to launch malware by a user’s actions or upon system reboot. These LNK files are created on the desktop, network shares, and even startup folders. One of the many variants of the Spy-Agent.bw trojan are known to take advantage of shortcuts to run.
We have seen the W32/Mokaksu virus modify all LNK files on the desktop and add the path of the malware file to the original path.
The example above is the shortcut to Adobe Acrobat Reader infected with malware. The path to the malicious “Config.Msi.exe” (in the red box) is added before the original path “AcroRd32.exe” (in the yellow box). In the shortcut, the original path is treated as a parameter to the malware file. Upon clicking on the shortcut, the W32/Mokaksu malware runs as well as executing the original file, all while running in the background. Ultimately users only see the application which was associated with the shortcut launch, thereby making it much harder for users to notice the infection.
Shortcuts can often contain scripts for “cmd.exe” instead of linking to executable trojan files. The Downloader-BMF trojan is such a case.
When users click on these LNK files, the scripts silently creates and drops ftp scripts to then download vbs scripts from the ftp severs. The downloaded vbs scripts are then responsible for downloading trojan files.
In the first 2 cases, shortcuts are just ways of launching malware whereas in the last case, these LNK files are standalone malicious files in which no other malicious executable files are needed but a legit “cmd.exe”. This type of LNK files can be attached to emails or hosted on the web sites. This implies that we need to be more careful with LNK files. Users can easily check shortcuts by browsing the file property or viewing the file with a binary editor.
If you find suspicious strings, please do not run the files but rather send the files to Avert for further research.