Hancitor and Ruckguv Reappear, Updated and With Vawtrak On Deck

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Proofpoint researchers have recently observed the re-emergence of two malware downloaders that had largely disappeared for several months. Hancitor (also known as Tordal and Chanitor) and Ruckguv have reappeared in campaigns distributing Pony and Vawtrak with significant updates and increased functionality. We have also been tracking an actor experimenting with various loaders, providing insights into these evolving components of malware ecosystems.

Hancitor Analysis

Starting on April 28, we observed one of the Vawtrak actors (using ID 80, 81, 82) utilizing an updated version of the Hancitor downloader. The last time that we saw this downloader used by one of the Vawtrak affiliates was April 2015, when it was downloading an older version of Vawtrak. We believe this is the same actor now using the updated downloader.

In this case, the Hancitor loader is dropped by a macro in the Microsoft Word email attachment. Hancitor, in turn, downloads a Pony module and Vawtrak.

Example email spreading Vawtrak
Figure 1: Example email spreading Vawtrak on April 28th via new loader has subject “FW: debt fax from [company name]” and attachment 175415626.doc (random numbers)

In the year since we last observed the downloader in Proofpoint data, Hancitor has been overhauled and updated. Notable changes and functionality include:

  • A rewrite of the network communication protocol
  • The ability to download and execute a Pony DLL module (and perhaps any DLL) from within the Hancitor process

Before this update, the Hancitor command-and-control (C&C) check-in (such as with sample MD5: f472c00abef3324460989972362458e1) used a pipe-separated POST data format such as “<GUID>|<BUILD>|<PCINFO>|<IP>”. The updated Hancitor submits similar information to the C&C, but in a different format. Specifically, the new POST data format is “GUID=&BUILD=&INFO=&IP=&TYPE=1&WIN=”.

Hancitor C&C check-in example
Figure 2: Example Hancitor C&C check-in

Parameter Description
GUID A 19-digit identifier generated with the UuidCreate Windows API (in early versions of the updated Hancitor) or derived from the output of GetAdaptersAddresses Windows API (latest version seen on May 10).
BUILD A hardcoded 4-digit number that appears to represent the software version. These are not updated in sequential order. Observed build numbers include 2804, and 0905
INFO The info shows the computer name, account name, and domain in the “[computer name] @ [domain]\[account]” format
IP External IP address of the infected machine, determined from api.ipify[.]org
TYPE Hardcoded value set to “1”
WIN Windows major and minor versions, followed by the system architecture in the “[major].[minor] ([architecture])” format where architecture is x32 or x64.

Table 1: Explanation of the parameters submitted to the C&C server by the updated Hancitor

In response to the infected client check-in, the C&C server can respond with a series of JSON-formatted commands for the client to perform, formatted as shown in Figure 2. The meaning of each command is explained in Table 2.

Command Description
{r:[URL]} Download and run an executable from URL
{u:} Unimplemented
{d:} Terminate malware process and delete backing file
{l:[URL]} Download module (DLL) from a URL, write it to current process memory, and execute it
{n:} Nothing to do

Table 2: Commands sent by the C&C server

The ability to download and execute a DLL module from within the Hancitor process is a new function of the updated malware. The DLL is downloaded to heap memory, written directly into the Hancitor process (using VirtualAllocEx and WriteProcessMemory) and executed from there using the CreateThread Windows API. Thus, the module is not written to the disk, and no files or persistence mechanisms are created for it. So far, we have observed only Pony downloaded as a module, but other DLLs could be loaded similarly. 

Module DLL written to current process and executed from there
Figure 3: Module DLL written to current process and executed from there

Pseudocode showing Hancitor downloading a DLL module
Figure 4: Pseudocode shows Hancitor downloading a DLL module, writing it to current process memory, and executing it

Ruckguv Analysis

On May 4, shortly after the updated Hancitor was first seen downloading Vawtrak, the same actor was observed using a new version of Ruckguv downloader. Before this, the last time that we saw this downloader was in December 2015, loading a Cryptowall payload. Similar to the updated Hancitor, the updated Ruckguv was dropped by a macro in the Word document. Ruckguv, in turn, downloaded a Pony module and Vawtrak.

Figure 5: Example email spreading Vawtrak on May 4th via new loader has subject “FW: [company website] irs notification” and attachment irs_468718228.doc (random numbers)

Since we last saw the downloader in Proofpoint data, Ruckguv has also been overhauled and updated. Notable changes and new malware features include:

  • Payload URLs are no longer encoded with ROT13
  • Downloaded payload is written to the system with one possible file name instead of three
  • More robust download code, instead of simply calling the URLDownloadToFileA API
  • The ability to download and run a Pony DLL as a module

The old version of Ruckguv (for example, MD5: 1c319670a717305f7373c8529092f8c3) encoded its payload URLs stored in the malware binary with ROT13, and decoded them at run-time. This is no longer the case; but other strings, such as DLL names used by the malware are now ROT13-encoded instead.

The downloaded payload is now written to the %APPDATA%\csrss_[volume_serial].exe file, where volume_serial is an eight-character string is generated with GetVolumeInformationA. Previously, the payload was also written to the %APPDATA% folder, but with one of three possible filenames, including csrss_nn.exe, WindowsDriver_nn.exe, or Frifox_nn.exe, where nn was a random two-digit number.

Figure 6: Code snippet showing filename generation for the downloaded payload

The old version of the malware simply downloaded the payload with the URLDownloadToFileA Windows API, which “downloads bits from the Internet and saves them to a file.” The new version reworked that functionality to instead use the InternetOpen, InternetOpenUrl, CreateFile, and WriteFile functions. The use of these functions allows for further customization, such as setting the User-Agent to “Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.1; Trident/5.0)”. Additionally the downloaded file size is now checked; if it is less than 2,000 bytes, it is considered a failed download and the loader attempts an alternative download location. This check may incidentally or intentionally help against white hat hackers that may alter/neuter the malware payload sites, such as those described in the “STUPID LOCKY” incident [2].

Figure 7: Code snippet showing the attempt to download the payload from an initial location, followed by a download file size check

Finally, the updated Ruckguv added the ability to download and run a DLL (we have only observed Pony DLL being downloaded so far). The DLL is downloaded to the %APPDATA%\wsrv_[volume_serial].dll location. The DLL is encrypted with a 10-byte RC4 key (“NJB#6452^&” in our sample). The DLL file is then read with ReadFile and executed from within the parent Ruckguv process by allocating memory, writing it to the parent process and jumping to its entry point.

Figure 8: Code snippet showing the DLL file name generation and DLL download

Other Loaders and Actor Details

This Vawtrak actor has also been experimenting with H1N1 Loader as the initial payload dropped by macro documents. Like the other loaders discussed, it is used to download a Pony DLL and Vawtrak executable. However, H1N1 can also steal credentials. H1N1 also received updates recently, which are discussed on the KernelMode forums [1].

The Vawtrak botnets IDs described here (80, 81, and 82) target primarily U.S. financial organizations with their injects, although a few Canadian and UK organizations have also been targeted. Previously a typical campaign would consist of only a handful of unique documents and several hundred thousand email messages. Starting in April, the actor started using many unique documents for their campaigns—some days using as many as tens of thousands of documents, likely as an attempt to evade detections. We first observed this Vawtrak variant last September. It’s notable for its modularity (it included a Pony stealer, a debug module, an inject module, and a back connect module).

Vawtrak may also download TinyLoader, which we have previously observed installing AbaddonPOS malware. We have also recently observed Vawtrak downloading the spambot used to send these campaigns (Send-Safe Enterprise Mailer).


Malware loaders often don't receive the same attention as their payload malware. Yet loaders like Hancitor, Ruckguv, Pony, and others are critical parts of the malware ecosystem. Not only are they incorporating increasing functionality on their own, but they also help threat actors evade detection because of their small download size. They also increase actors' flexibility, allowing them to rapidly swap out payloads as campaigns evolve or differentiate payloads by geolocation, IP, or other instructions provided by C&C infrastructure.

And to that end, updates to loaders bear watching for anyone looking to stay ahead of savvy actors.


  1. http://www.kernelmode.info/forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=3851
  2. https://blog.avira.com/im-with-stupid-locky/

Indicators of Compromise (IOC)

IOC IOC Type Description
9b3fa5dc3b340e0df08d26dd53cd3aa83212950b2d41cf1b1e5a6dd1acd0e4df SHA56 Hash Document that dropped Hancitor on April 28
5ec4ba1a97500e664af6896f4c02846ca6777e671bb600103dc8d49224e38f48 SHA56 Hash Hancitor
b19ec186f59b1f72c768ed2fcd8344d75821e527870b71e8123db96f683f1b68 SHA56 Hash Pony (Hancitor module)
ec9a14f442bbb549388c7a36f8f221fab4f8d3578540ad528f9cb12d35e73fa5 SHA56 Hash Vawtrak (Hancitor payload)
[hxxp://hadfanawass[.]com/sl/gate.php] URL Hancitor C2
[hxxp://rophenreswi[.]ru/sl/gate.php] URL Hancitor C2
[hxxp://mihesfitons[.]ru/sl/gate.php] URL Hancitor C2
[hxxps://krrewiaog3u4npcg[.]onion.to/sl/gate.php] URL Hancitor C2
[hxxp://quoapps[.]es/pm.dll] URL Hancitor downloading Pony
[hxxp://posturepals[.]es/inst1.exe] URL Hancitor downloading Vawtrak
b1ba251cf4f494a00ff0d64a50004d839928dac816afb81c33af51622baf2c12 SHA256 Hash Document that dropped Ruckguv on May 4
0b6e868c196c7ad80fac72a7d02159cfa4f72ad657604cd3e5eb03c796df01ba SHA56 Hash Ruckguv
2ccebf5fee30073e849895c6e43f6519017f226281c80177d72febcfbaf1f0d3 SHA56 Hash Pony (Ruckguv module)
9b11304e4362a8fbe2ee91d8e31d7ae5774019aaeef9240c6878da78bdf0bfa9 SHA56 Hash Vawtrak (Ruckguv payload)
[hxxp://logimax[.]net[.]in/ii.exe] URL Ruckguv downloading Vawtrak
[hxxp://tourjacket[.]me/ii.exe] URL Ruckguv downloading Vawtrak
[hxxp://urbanrecreation[.]eu/ii.exe] URL Ruckguv downloading Vawtrak
[hxxp://tantrix[.]com[.]tr/pm.dll] URL Ruckguv downloading Pony
[hxxp://therapeutica[.]com[.]br/pm.dll] URL Ruckguv downloading Pony
[hxxp://therapeutica[.]com[.]br/pm.dll] URL Ruckguv downloading Pony


Select ET Signatures that would fire on such traffic:

2819959 || ETPRO TROJAN Hancitor Dropper Checkin

2819978 || ETPRO TROJAN Tordal/Hancitor/Chanitor

2021997 || ET POLICY External IP Lookup api.ipify.org

2014411 || ET TROJAN Fareit/Pony Downloader Checkin 2

2022225 || ET TROJAN Vawtrak HTTP CnC Beacon

2813060 || ETPRO TROJAN Vawtrak Retrieving Module