September 22, 2023

The explosion of Internet of Things devices has long served as a breeding ground for malware distribution.

The explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) devices has long served as a breeding ground for malware distribution. The inability for users to patch many IoT devices has only compounded this problem, as bad actors continue to evolve tactics to leverage botnets for DDoS attacks and other malicious behaviour. Black Lotus Labs tracks malware families that present new or distinct threats to the global community, and recently began tracking a new malware family called Mozi.

Mozi is evolved from the source code of several known malware families – Gafgyt, Mirai and IoT Reaper – that have been brought together to form a peer-to-peer (P2P) botnet capable of DDoS attacks, data exfiltration and command or payload execution. The malware targets IoT devices, predominantly routers and DVRs that are either unpatched or have weak telnet passwords. After a notable traffic increase in December was mistakenly attributed to other malware families by researchers, Black Lotus Labs reviewed entries in our reputation system for that timeframe, which revealed a different story. This traffic was not simply increased activity by a known family, but a new family altogether.

Black Lotus labs findings

This malware family has not changed in some time, the increase was unexpected, and led to further investigation of the increase. Upon review of these entries we began to see a pattern develop, each host had an http server listening on a random port that served a file which included “Mozi” in the name. File names such as “Mozi.m” and “Mozi.a” were seen throughout all of the identified hosts.

The Mozi botnet is comprised of nodes that utilise a distributed hash table (DHT) for communication, similar to the code used by IoT Reaper and Hajime. These nodes also host the Mozi.m and Mozi.a malware binary files, passed during the compromise of new hosts, on a randomly chosen port. The standard DHT protocol is commonly used to store node contact information for torrent and other P2P clients. Using DHT allows the malware to bypass the use of standard malware command and control servers while hiding behind the large amount of typical DHT traffic. This makes it harder to track and impact the control infrastructure. As a P2P botnet, Mozi implements its own custom extended DHT described later.

To enumerate the botnet, Black Lotus Labs implemented a machine learning model trained on the observed unique DHT traffic implementation utilised by Mozi. This allows us to distinguish between Mozi nodes and benign hosts, and identify the IPs suspected of participating in the botnet. When we identify a new suspected Mozi node, our software attempts to confirm the suspicion by sending messages proprietary to the malware’s p2p protocol, and looks for correctly formatted responses. When the correct response is seen, the host is validated as a member of the Mozi botnet.

A deeper look into the Mozi malware
The Mozi samples analysed are ELF binaries with versions targeted for MIPS and ARM processor architectures. Once executed, the binary forks many versions of itself renamed as ‘ssh’ or ‘dropbear’. The forked processes are responsible for setting up the DHT communications and closing ports to prevent infection by other malware. The forked processes can also set up HTTP on a randomly chosen port to host the Mozi binary.

Mozi uses a modified DHT protocol for communication. The bot initially DHT pings several nodes hardcoded in the binary to bootstrap the initial connection to the DHT network. For the nodes that respond, the bot then sends a DHT ‘find_node’ command to locate other bots on the Mozi botnet. It often takes several find_node attempts to locate an active Mozi peer.

All the vulnerabilities targeted by the botnet are well known and are prevented by either proper patching or proper password management. Companies and individuals can follow these security best practices to help prevent these types of compromises in the future:




































Top talking botnet nodes from most recent data

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