What is a logic bomb attack? Protect against slag code

Anton P. | October 17, 2022

A logic bomb attack gets triggered by a malicious code inserted into a piece of software. To activate the script, infected devices or systems must meet a specific condition. For instance, you might set off the logic bomb by opening a certain program or deleting a file.

The exact switch for the slag code ranges depending on the attack and its goals. It could be an insider job done by a disgruntled employee after getting fired.

However, a logic bomb can have a positive or negative effect. A positive example would be a greeting triggered by a particular date and time. Sadly, it is not always so innocent.

Logic bomb explained

The logic bomb is malicious code known as slag code injected into a program. Typically, hackers input such additional scripts for malevolent purposes, like stealing data or triggering a payload download.

However, the logic bomb, or in other words, secret code, does not work without the system meeting particular criteria. So, something must happen before the bomb can go off.

Furthermore, hackers can exploit delayed-action destruction for malware and viruses. For instance, an infection could spread through code attached to other files or programs.

Then, even though the file or program operates normally, the code could wait for the right moment to strike. So, a logic bomb can be a virus performing malicious activities. However, it could also open backdoors for infections to arrive on your device.

In the 1980s, developers added these bombs to their licensed software. Essentially, when the license expired, the program would self-destruct.

Currently, the use of logic bombs is illegal. However, criminals still corrupt open-source software for malicious goals. For instance, cracked software could be a way to distribute this attack.

Is a logic bomb the same as a time bomb?

A time bomb and a logic bomb in cybersecurity share many similarities. They both reach systems in secret and have an intended goal, likely a malicious one. However, their main difference comes from how the threat gets activated:

  • Logic bombs wait until or see whether a targeted system meets a specific condition. Only then does it perform the next step in its plan.
  • Time bombs follow only one requirement: time. Attackers likely set a particular countdown until it damages a system. So, no external requirements need to get fulfilled.

What does a logic bomb do?

A malicious attack needs to showcase multiple characteristics of a logic bomb:

  • The software contains a code or payload unknown to users.
  • The code is inactive until triggered.
  • A specific requirement exists that, once met, pushes the malicious code into action.

So, a logic bomb exhibits malicious behavior if a logical condition gets fulfilled. It can work against operating systems, particular applications, or networks.

Threat actors might exploit this technique for a range of reasons. Thus, the behavior of this attack can be unpredictable.

Even the way a logic bomb activates can differ by following either positive or negative conditions:

  • A positive condition means that the bomb detonates only after the main requirement gets satisfied.
  • A negative condition means the bomb goes off if a particular process fails.

For example, once it explodes, it could take the stealthy path, secretly gathering data and transferring it to attackers. However, the ticking danger could be more cunning, like wiping systems clean or corrupting data.

Examples of logic bombing attacks

Stuxnet is likely the most well-known logic bomb. While it was an intricate threat, it was a virus waiting to strike systems that met certain conditions.

The Stuxnet case targeted only particular systems and left others unharmed. However, there are more instances of bombs getting planted in software:

  • In 2021, a logic bomb arrived with Python packages. Once activated, it began exploiting users’ computer assets for crypto-mining. Therefore, such bombs can facilitate the latest digital threats.
  • In 2019, a contract programmer cheated the Siemens Corporation. The man planted bombs in spreadsheets that would cause issues within the program. Then, the culprit would get paid for fixing the fabricated issues.
  • In 2017, an IT contractor added logic bombs to US military systems. This threat elevated into a national security risk, with the culprit facing spending years in prison.

In rare cases, a logic bomb could be a programming error. However, it is usually a deliberate addition to software. From the witnessed incidents, it is also commonly an inside job. Employees with access to systems can leave bombs that will activate after their dismissal.

Can antivirus software detect logic bombing?

It is possible that antivirus software will manage to detect a logic bomb before it explodes. However, not every tool is capable of finding such stealthy threats. The best option is getting a program that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify software with unknown signatures.

Sadly, logic bomb attacks can also evade detection, particularly if an insider planted the code. Thus, other security checks are necessary.

How to prevent logic bombs?

A logic bomb virus could be stealthy and slip through the cracks of even the most sophisticated security tools. However, there are some ways to protect your systems from getting compromised by it:

  • Download software only from reliable sources. Before initiating the download and installation, check whether its developers are trustworthy.
  • Never, never go for cracked programs. Pirated software is a hotbed for malware, viruses, and worms. So, stick to legitimate applications, both for legal and security reasons.
  • Get trusted antivirus software. A proper security program can defend against various threats. AI-powered tools have the best chance of detecting the logic bomb.
  • Notice when programs act strange. Slag code could disrupt regular software operation.
  • Know the signs of phishing and other online threats. You could accidentally download logic bombs received through fraudulent emails or fake websites.
  • In corporate settings, keep track of contractors, system administrators, or developers. Insider threat remains the biggest when it comes to slag code attacks. So, businesses and organizations should oversee how employees contribute to projects.
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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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