Despite being the most active malware in its category last year, the Neverquest banking Trojan has disappeared from the threat landscape over the past few months, in what could be a permanent departure, IBM security researchers say.
Also known as Vawtrak, Neverquest apparently took a dive after 32-year-old Russian national Stanislav Lisov, supposedly the malware’s author, was detained in January 2017. Even so, IBM argues that this alone shouldn’t have caused the Trojan’s disappearance from the threat landscape, given that Gozi and Dridex remained active even after their developers got arrested.
Neverquest was the second most active banking Trojan in 2015, when Dyre was at the top of financial malware charts, and took the leading position last year after Dyre disappeared. In late 2016, however, new Zeus variants that were rising in underground forums managed to push Neverquest down to second rank.
After starting 2017 in second place on the financial malware chart, the Trojan ended the first quarter last on the top 10 list, after its activity dropped rapidly. Neverquest’s modus operandi and the cybergang’s composition for committing fraud, coupled with the January arrest, influenced the recent drop in activity, IBM suggests.
Focused on business banking and investment banking, the malware’s platform is believed to have supported geo-specific operators, with the malware calling home immediately after an infection with a specific ID to identify its campaign. This approach meant that the botnet was segmented into different campaigns, each with its specific configuration instructions.
“Neverquest, unlike the GootKit gang for example, is not one close-knit gang; it’s a service to the cybercrime elite. The minute Neverquest’s dubious collaborators saw law enforcement reach one of their trusted parties, they realized the FBI was already too close for comfort and dropped it like it was hot: campaigns delivering the Neverquest Trojan dropped considerably on Jan. 19, 2017, just a few days after Lisov’s arrest in Spain,” IBM’s Limor Kessem explains.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether Neverquest is gone for good or just taking a vacation of sorts, given its connection to longstanding cybercrime groups dating back to the year 2000. One possibility, IBM says, is that the group has decided to shift away from this malware to evade the attention from law enforcement. However, they could also consider reactivating it, modifying it, or even selling it to a different group.
One threat to keep an eye on at the moment, IBM says, is the Sphinx Trojan, which has been rising rapidly and is expected to grow further before year’s end. Apparently, Neverquest was outsourcing distribution to the Moskalvzapoe Network, which switched to dropping Zeus Sphinx Trojan via Terdot in January.