Stantinko: A Massive Adware Campaign Operating Covertly Since 2012

Stantinko is a botnet that we estimate infects around half a million machines mainly located in the Russian Federation and Ukraine. In addition to its prevalence, Stantinko stands out because of its use of advanced anti-analysis techniques, the heavy usage of encryption to hide malicious code and the use of anti-virus evasion tricks that allowed them to stay under the radar for the past five years. While its main purpose is to commit advertisement fraud, Stantinko also installs a backdoor allowing them to run arbitrary code on the victim’s machine.

The Stantinko malware family dates back to at least 2012. We noticed a significant change in the group’s toolset that occured at the beginning of 2015, which made it way more difficult to track them and to gather all the pieces necessary to conduct a complete analysis of this notably undocumented threat.

When we began our analysis, we were not sure at what kind of malware we were looking at. It took us some time to understand Stantinko’s purpose because of its fileless modular architecture. After reverse-engineering its network protocol, we were able to collect the modules that contain the actual malicious code and were able to slowly draw the big picture. We found out that its malicous activities include advertising fraud, Facebook fraud and brute-forcing administrator credentials of Joomla and WordPress Content Management Systems. At this point, it became clear to us that we were looking at a crimeware botnet.

This presentation will cover the findings from our six-month hunt after this large-scale stealthy botnet.


Frédéric Vachon is a Malware Researcher at ESET. Formerly History student, he traded his love for old stories to play with rusty computer language like assembly. He cherishes the past and can’t quite understand why modern GUI supplanted good old terminal based UI.
Matthieu Faou is a Malware Researcher at ESET where he performs in-depth analysis of malware. He has a strong interest for cybercrime and especially click fraud. He finished his Master’s degree in computer science at École Polytechnique de Montréal in 2016. In the past, he has presented his research at Virus Bulletin.

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