The PDF format has become one of the most popular ways to view files, as this format is compatible with all kinds of technological devices, including desktop computers, laptops, electronic tablets and smartphones. Because of this universal presence, threat actors began using these documents to deliver malware and easily deploy other attack variants.
This time, specialists from the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS) will show you how to apply digital forensics to analyze PDF documents and determine if they are compromised with any variant of malicious content.
PDF documents, whether legitimate or malicious, have 4 main elements, mention digital forensics experts:
- Header: Contains information about the version of the document and other general data
- Body: Refers to the objects of the document. this element consists of flows that are used to store data
- Cross-reference table: pointing to each object
- Trailer: Element pointing to the cross-reference table
Now that we know the essential information about an attack via PDF documents, we will be able to review each way to analyze these elements.
PDF scanning using PDFiD
View the contents of PDF objects
Extracting embedded files using Peepdf
This is a Python tool that contains all the necessary components for the validation and analysis of PDF files, mentioned digital forensics experts. To take full advantage of its capabilities enter the peepdf – i file_name.pdf command. The -i function will enable the interactive mode of the script:
To find more features, enter the –help command:
The scan result indicates that there is a file embedded in object 14. A closer inspection of this object allows you to see that it points to object 15; in turn, object 15 points to object 16. Finally, there are indications of the presence of a malicious file on object 17.
According to the content of the PDF, there is only one sequence in it, which also points to object 17. Therefore, object 17 is a sequence with an embedded file.
Stream 17 contains a file signature that begins with MZ and a hexadecimal value that begins with 4d 5a. According to digital forensics experts, these are signs that point to an executable file.
Next, we will save the sequence as a virus.exe executable.
Run the file in sup-tuals-tion using a 32-bit Windows 7 system.
As you can see from the Process Explorer window, virus.exe created two suspicious processes (zedeogm.exe, cmd.exe) that were interrupted after starting.
According to Process Monitor, the zedeogm.exe file was saved within running processes. Then he changed the rules set in Windows Firewall. The next step was to run the WinMail.exe file; after that, the program launched cmd.exe to run the tmpd849fc4d.bat file and stop the process.
The use of digital forensics techniques for the analysis of PDF documents can be essential to avoid interacting with malicious content. Together with other preventive measures, this practice can close one of the main vectors of threats today.
Other recommended measures to prevent this threat include:
- Verify the sender of a spam email
- Ignore links or attachments in unsolicited emails
- Keep your antivirus tools always up to date
- Check for typos, very common in malicious emails
As usual, we remind you that this material was prepared for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a call to action. IICS is not responsible for the misuse that may occur to the information contained herein.
To learn more about information security risks, malware variants, digital forensics, vulnerabilities and information technologies, feel free to access the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS) websites.
He is a well-known expert in mobile security and malware analysis. He studied Computer Science at NYU and started working as a cyber security analyst in 2003. He is actively working as an anti-malware expert. He also worked for security companies like Kaspersky Lab. His everyday job includes researching about new malware and cyber security incidents. Also he has deep level of knowledge in mobile security and mobile vulnerabilities.