DarkCrewBot – The Return of the Bot Shop Crew

June 25, 2020
Research By: Liron Yosefian and Ori Hamama, Network Research



Check Point Researchers recently discovered an ongoing, evolving campaign from a known hackers’ group, “DarkCrewFriends.” This campaign targets PHP servers, focusing on creating a botnet infrastructure that can be leveraged for several purposes such as monetization and shutting down critical services.

DarkCrewFriends has been quite active over the last few years. The group offers a variety of services ranging from bots to traffic services for websites, and was mentioned as the party responsible for causing a data breach in an Italian news site.

The attack chain of the current campaign includes exploiting an unrestricted file upload vulnerability, uploading a malicious PHP web shell, and communicating with a C&C server using an IRC channel. The attackers can leverage the malware’s capabilities for various scenarios, such as DDoS attack types and shell command execution.

The Attack Chain

The campaign’s chain includes these stages:

Figure 1: The infection chain.


The Exploited Vulnerability

In our initial analysis, we observed a PHP backdoor on the victims’ servers. These PHP web shell files were uploaded to the vulnerable servers by the attackers.

Many applications allow users to upload certain files to their servers, such as images or documents. These files can put the system at risk if they are not properly handled. A remote attacker can send a specially-crafted request to a vulnerable server and upload an unrestricted file while bypassing the server’s file extension check. This can eventually result in arbitrary code execution on the affected system.

Based on our research, the victims’ servers host Content Management sites. These platforms have multiple unrestricted file upload vulnerabilities in which attackers can upload malicious files to the vulnerable servers. One of these vulnerabilities has an exploit created and published by DarkCrewFriends.

Figure 2: The unrestricted file upload exploit published by the DarkCrewFriends.

Based on their previous exploits, this group of attackers is very familiar with this type of vulnerability. We can assume that the attackers used an unrestricted file upload vulnerability to establish their backdoor on the victims’ servers.

The PHP Backdoor

To exploit the move_uploaded_file vulnerability and create a backdoor on the affected server, the attackers uploaded the following web shell on the victim’s server. The code defines a GET parameter called osc and executes a decompressed base64 string. We also detected another version of this PHP backdoor used by the attackers which utilizes a GET parameter called anon that was defined in the web shell code.

PHP Web Shell

Figure 3: The PHP backdoor code.

When we accessed the uploaded file, the DarkCrewFriends headline appears:

Figure 4: An HTTP response from the PHP backdoor including DarkCrewFriends headline.

In addition, the file also includes a base64 string. When we decoded this string, we saw the following code:

Decoded Base64

Figure 5: The decoded base64 string.


Downloading the Malicious Files

After the successful backdoor initialization, the attackers call a parameter known as osc. The attackers then access the file and pass arguments to their code through this parameter, and execute the following code:


When we decoded the string, we discovered commands to download and execute two .aff files. Afterward, all .aff files are removed.

Decoded Base64

Figure 7: The decoded base64 string from the log.

When we downloaded both .aff files, we saw that those files were actually PHP and Perl files. The hidden file extension is used to avoid detection and confuse the issue. We obtained the attacker’s source IP address,, from the attack log. Further investigation revealed that the related domain to this address is lubrisabana[.]com.

Figure 8: The DNS history of the attacker’s IP related domain:

We also investigated the history of the pkalexeivic[.]com domain, which was used to store the malicious .aff files. We checked this domain’s DNS history and were surprised to see that the last activity there also happened on the same day.

Figure 9: The DNS history  of the domain used to store the aff files pkalexeivic[.]com

We assume that this is an indicator of new activity related to this campaign.
In addition, we noticed that the variables names and comments in the files are written in Italian.

Malware Analysis

The malware has a wide range of capabilities, including:


  • Open multiple processes at the same time.
  • Pause the script to avoid detection.
  • Execute shell commands.
  • Extract all the running services on the host computer.
  • Download\Upload FTP file.
  • Scan open ports.
  • Conduct multiple DDoS attacks – UDP & TCP DDoS, “Mega DDoS”, HTTP flood, IRC CTCP flood, and leverage multiple open proxies to a consolidated DDoS attack.
  • Execute multiple IRC commands.


The malware communicates using the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) protocol. IRC includes various commands to allow the user to perform certain actions in the IRC channels. Those commands are co-opted by the malware to perform its activities. Alongside other actions, the bot uses the IRC commands to infect/attack other IRC servers and also to communicate with the remote C&C server.

As mentioned above, various DDoS attacks are supported, and the menu of the relevant attack types is sent to the malware’s operator via PRIVMSG, a private message transferred between IRC users. The desired action is fetched from the C&C’s reply.

Figure 10: The multiple DDoS attack types supported by the malware.

In the following function, the attacker downloads and executes files and performs a remote code execution on the affected system:

Figure 11: The function to execute every file on the affected system.


The attackers can also execute shell commands on the affected machine. The commands are sent by the C&C server:

Figure 12: The function to execute shell commands.

The malware also has FTP upload and download capabilities:

Figure 13: The function to upload files via FTP.

Following the malware analysis, we noticed that variants of this malware are widely spread online.


Figure 14: The Perl malware variant found in a malware samples repository.

Figure 15: The PHP malware code in a GitHub repository:

As of this writing, none of the files were uploaded to Virus Total.

Security Impact

This malware has a large range of attack types and capabilities that can be used to achieve various goals. The bot can be used to steal sensitive information, damage the affected system or even crash it completely. Following the various scenarios and attack methods depicted in the Malware Analysis section above, we conclude that the impact on the victim’s infrastructure can be severe and have significant repercussions.

Threat Actors

Based on our code and intelligence analysis, we concluded that the threat actors responsible for this campaign are linked to the hackers group DarkCrewFriends. Here are some of the obvious clues:

Figure 16: The DarkCrewFriends signature in the web shell code.

Figure 17: The “real name” of the bot admin.

In the past,  this group was linked to a hacking attempt of an Italian news site:

Figure 18: The News coverage of the DarkCrewFriends news site hack.

In addition, a deeper search in a hacking forum led us to a user named “SOULDRK” who publicizes his group’s exploit services. While reviewing this user’s posts in the hacking forum, we surmised that this user is probably Italian.

Figure 19: The user SOULDRK’s promotion of the DarkCrew services.

As mentioned previously, the group offers a number of different services, including bots and traffic services for websites. All their services are priced and the payment is in BTC only. We tracked multiple threads and related posts in the forum. Those posts were published between 2013-2015 which is consistent with the malware repositories dates and the Italian news site hacking.

Furthermore, we saw the following recent post from September 2019:

Figure 20: A recent post by SOULDRK.

In this post, the attackers sought a new domain to host their malware associated with the aforementioned campaign.

The Bot Shop Services

The attackers create a network of botnets by using the IRC protocol to infect connected servers. This provides them with a more powerful attack tool and is also used in the traffic services they offer for sale.

Figure 21: Advertisement for the DarkCrew traffic services.

Figure 22: Advertisement for the DarkCrew bot shop services.


The tool offered for sale can be used for a variety of purposes and comes with a user-friendly explanation. DarkCrew also offers customers a range of services including installing, managing and updating their exploits.

Figure 23: Advertisement for the DarkCrew integration services.


We have been tracking an evolving and multi-dimensional campaign carried out by DarkCrew Friends which targets PHP servers to create a vast botnet infrastructure. The associated botnet has a broad range of attack capabilities, and can be leveraged to steal sensitive information and damage the victims’ systems.

We will continue to monitor the malware presence and further activity of the DarkCrewFriends group.
Check Point provides multiple layers of security coverage to its customers, including IPS .

Check Point Security Coverage for this campaign includes the following:

IPS protections:

  • Command Injection Over HTTP
  • PHP Web Shell Generic Backdoor


C&C server:

  • 182[.]53.220.81


  • pkalexeivic[.]com

Files hashes:

  • 52fed95c6428ceca398d601a0f0a6a36dedb51799ae28f56f4e789917226dd84
  • 0f3062e22d8facfa05e6e6a1299b34d6bcbf7c22aa65241f6e332b71dcc80e15



Attack Source IP Addresses:










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