IconBurst software supply chain attack offers malicious versions of NPM packages

IconBurst software supply chain attack offers malicious versions of NPM packages

Researchers discovered evidence of a widespread software supply chain attack involving malicious Javascript packages offered via the npm package manager. The threat actors behind the IconBurst campaign used typosquatting to mislead developers looking for very popular packages.


npm is short for Node package manager, a name that no longer covers the load. npm is a package manager for the JavaScript programming language maintained by npm, Inc. It consists of a command line client, also called npm, and an online database of public and paid-for private packages, called the npm registry. The free npm registry has become the center of JavaScript code sharing, and with more than one million packages, the largest software registry in the world.

Even non-developers may have heard of Node.js, a JavaScript runtime built on Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine. Node.js is an open-source, cross-platform, back-end JavaScript runtime environment that runs on the V8 engine and executes JavaScript code outside a web browser. npm is the default package manager for Node.js.

Malicious fakes

Researchers at ReversingLabs identified more than two dozen such NPM packages. The packages dated back up to six months, and contain obfuscated Javascript designed to steal form data from individuals using applications or websites that included the malicious packages.

The malicious packages serviced downstream mobile and desktop applications as well as websites. In one case, a malicious package has been downloaded more than 17,000 times. The attacker used a typosquatting technique to trick developers into using the malicious packages.


Typosquatting is a term you may have seen when reading about Internet scams. In essence it relies on users making typos when entering a site or domain name. Sometimes typosquatting includes techniques like URL hijacking and domain mimicry, but mostly it relies on intercepting typos, hence the name.

In this case, the attackers offer up packages via public repositories with names that are very similar to legitimate packages like umbrellajs and packages published by ionic.io.

Supply chain attack

A supply chain attack, also called a value-chain or third-party attack, occurs when someone attacks you or your system through an outside partner or provider. Attackers can deploy supply chain attacks to exploit trust relationships between a target and external parties.

This attack can be categorized as a supply chain attack because the developer falling for the typosquatting trick is not the victim. Ultimately, the user filling out a form on a website created by the developer that used a contaminated package is the actual victim of the attack.

Obfuscated code

The researchers’ attention was drawn by the use of the same obfuscator in a wide range of npm packages over the past few months. Obfuscation, although uncommon, is not unheard of in open source development. Often obfuscation techniques aim to hide the underlying code from prying eyes, but the Javascript Obfuscator used in this attack also reduces the size of JavaScript files.

Following the obfuscation trail, the developers found similarly named packages that could be connected to one of a handful of NPM accounts.

The goal

After deobfuscation, it became clear that the authors integrated a known login stealing script into the popular npm packages. The script designed to steal information from online forms, originates from a hacking tool called “Hacking PUBG i’d”. PUBG is an online multiplayer shooter with an estimated billion players. Some of these packages are still available for download at the time of writing.

Once again this attack shows us that the way in which developers rely on the work of others is not backed up by a way to detect malicious code within open source libraries and modules.

The researchers’ blog contains a list of packages and associated hashes of the malicious packages for developers that suspect they may have fallen victim to this attack.

Stay safe, everyone!


Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.