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China-linked APT Went Under Radar for Decade

 

Researchers have discovered a small but effective China-linked APT that has been operating in Southeast Asia and Australia for more than a decade, running campaigns against government, education, and telecommunications institutions. 

SentinelLabs researchers stated that the APT, dubbed Aoqin Dragon, has been active since at least 2013. According to the report, the APT is "a small Chinese-speaking team with potential association to [an APT called] UNC94." According to researchers, one of Aoqin Dragon's methods and approaches is to use pornographic-themed infected documents as bait to attract victims to download them. 

“Aoqin Dragon seeks initial access primarily through document exploits and the use of fake removable devices,” researchers wrote. The fact that Aoqin Dragon has developed, allowed them to stay under the radar for so long. For example, the APT's technique of infecting target computers has progressed. Aoqin Dragon depended on exploiting old vulnerabilities – especially, CVE-2012-0158 and CVE-2010-3333 – that their targets may not have yet fixed in their early years of operation. 

Aoqin Dragon later developed executable files with desktop icons that resembled Windows folders or antivirus software. These programmes were malicious droppers that planted backdoors and then connected to the attackers' command-and-control (C2) servers. Since 2018, the group has used a fraudulent detachable device as an infection vector. 

When a user clicks to view what appears to be a removable device folder, they really start a chain reaction that downloads a backdoor and establishes a C2 connection on their PC. Furthermore, the malware replicates itself to any genuine removable devices attached to the host system in order to move beyond the host and, presumably, onto the target's larger network. Other methods have been used by the group to remain undetected. 

They've exploited DNS tunnelling to get around firewalls by altering the internet's domain name system. Mongall, a backdoor exploit, encrypts communication data between the host and the C2 server. According to the experts, the APT gradually began to use the fake removable disc approach over time. This was done to "improve the malware's resistance to detection and removal by security tools." 

National-State Ties 

Targets have tended to fall into a few categories: government, education, and telecommunications, all in and around Southeast Asia. Researchers assert that “the targeting of Aoqin Dragon closely aligns with the Chinese government’s political interests.” 

A debug log discovered by researchers that contain simplified Chinese characters provides more proof of Chinese influence. Most importantly, the researchers uncovered an overlapping attack on the website of Myanmar's president in 2014. In another case, investigators were able to track the hackers' command-and-control and mail servers all the way back to Beijing. 

With that circumstance, Aoqin Dragon's two primary backdoors have overlapping C2 infrastructure, and the majority of the C2 servers may be ascribed to Chinese-speaking users. Still, "correctly identifying and monitoring State and State-Sponsored threat actors can be challenging," said Mike Parkin, senior technical engineer at Vulcan Cyber. 

“SentinelOne releasing the information now on an APT group that has apparently been active for almost a decade, and doesn’t appear in other lists, shows how hard it can be ‘to be sure when you’re identifying a new threat actor.”

Chinese Hackers are Targeting Russian Aerospace Industry

 

Space Pirates, a Chinese cyberespionage group is targeting businesses in the Russian aerospace industry with phishing emails to deploy a novel strain of malware. 

The APT group started operating in 2017, and researchers believe it is associated with other China-linked APT groups, including APT41 (Winnti), Mustang Panda, and APT27. Russian security researchers at Positive Technologies named the group "Space Pirates" due to their espionage operations focusing on stealing confidential information from companies in the aerospace field. 

Malicious actors targeted government agencies, IT departments, and aerospace and power enterprises in Russia, Georgia as well as Mongolia. However, the majority of victims were spotted to be in Russia. Out of those, several victims operated specifically within the partially state-owned aerospace industry of the Russian Federation. 

The researchers first uncovered signs of Space Pirates' activity last summer during incident response and quickly confirmed that the malicious actors employed the same malware and infrastructure against at least four more domestic organizations since 2019. 

According to researchers, at least two attacks on Russian organizations were successful. In one instance, Space Pirates accessed at least 20 servers on the corporate network and stayed there for ten months; 1,500 internal documents were stolen, together with information about all employee accounts in one of the network domains. 

In the second assault, the Chinese attackers stayed in the network of the compromised firms for over a year, exfiltrating confidential information and deploying their malware to 12 corporate network nodes in three distinct regions. 

The Space Pirates’ unique toolkit contains a wide range of malware, including unique loaders and multiple previously undetected backdoors tracked as MyKLoadClient, BH_A006, and Deed RAT. The arsenal also includes the Zupdax backdoor along with well-known malware such as PlugX RAT, ShadowPad backdoor, Poison Ivy RAT, a modified version of PcShare, and the public ReVBShell shell. The APT group also leverages the dog-tunnel utility to tunnel traffic. 

The threat analysts believe that the overlaps between various Chinese APTs are due to tool exchanges, a common phenomenon for hackers in the region. 

“APT groups with Asian roots continue to attack Russian companies, which is confirmed by the activity of the Space Pirates group. Attackers both develop new malware that implements non-standard techniques (such as Deed RAT) and uses modifications of existing backdoors. Sometimes such modifications can have many layers of obfuscation added to counteract protections and complicate the analysis procedure – as in the case of BH_A006, built on the code of the popular Gh0st backdoor,” researchers explained. 

“A separate difficulty in the case of APT groups in the Asian region is the exact attribution of the observed activity: the frequent exchange of tools used, as well as the joint activity of various groups in some cases, significantly complicate this task.”

On Microsoft Exchange Servers, a New IceApple Exploit Toolkit was Launched

 

Security analysts discovered a new post-exploitation framework that could enable Microsoft Exchange servers to be compromised. This framework, known as IceApple, was created by threat actors who wanted to preserve a low profile while launching long-term attacks to assist reconnaissance and data exfiltration. 

"As of May 2022, IceApple is under active development, with 18 modules seen in operation across several enterprise contexts," CrowdStrike reported. The complex virus was identified in various victim networks and in geographically separate areas, which were detected in late 2021. Victims come from a variety of fields, including technology, academia, and government.

IceApple is unique for being an in-memory framework, implying a threat actor's desire to keep a low forensic footprint and avoid detection, which bears all the signs of a long-term algorithmic mission by creating files that appear to come from Microsoft's IIS web server. While most of the malware has been found on Microsoft Exchange servers, IceApple can function under any Internet Information Services (IIS) web app, making it a dangerous threat.

IceApple activity, as per CrowdStrike researchers, could be linked to nation-state attacks. Although IceApple has not been linked to any single threat actor, many believe it was developed by China. 

The actual number of victims of the attack has not been determined by CrowdStrike, but they do not rule out the possibility that the threat will expand in the following weeks. In this regard, the experts suggested updating any apps used by public and commercial businesses to strengthen the system's protection against this framework. 

The malware can locate and erase files and directories, write data, collect credentials, search Active Directory, and transfer sensitive data due to the framework's various components. These components' build timestamps date back to May 2021.

Chinese Hackers Targeted Indian State Power Grid

 

Chinese state-sponsored malicious actors launched “probing cyberattacks” on Indian electricity distribution centers near Ladakh thrice since December 2021. On Wednesday a report by private intelligence firm Recorded Future confirmed the attack. 

The hackers targeted seven Indian state centers responsible for carrying out electrical dispatch and grid control near a border area contested by the two nuclear neighbors, the report added. This attack came to light while the military standoff between the two countries in the region had already deteriorated the relationship. However, the government sources affirmed that the attacks were not successful. 

''In recent months, we observed likely network intrusions targeting at least seven Indian State Load Despatch Centres (SLDCs) responsible for carrying out real-time operations for grid control and electricity dispatch within these respective states. Notably, this targeting has been geographically concentrated, with the identified SLDCs located in North India, in proximity to the disputed India-China border in Ladakh," the group said. 

The hackers employed the trojan ShadowPad, which the experts claimed has been developed by contractors for China's Ministry of State Security, thereby concluding  that it was a state-sponsored hacking effort. 

"In addition to the targeting of power grid assets, we also identified the compromise of a national emergency response system and the Indian subsidiary of a multinational logistics company by the same threat activity group," Recorded Future said.

Financier Diakonov Called Russia the Future Cryptocurrency Center of the World

 

Mr. Diakonov predicted the future of cryptocurrency and called it a possible alternative to traditional money. "Time will tell how it will be built into the system of international payments and trade," he said.
The financier also stated that Russia can become a cryptocurrency world center since it has the necessary knowledge, capabilities and technologies to create this product. However, it is difficult to guess when this scenario will come to life,since the concepts of cryptocurrencies proposed by the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank do not reflect the current situation. 

"If the task is to transfer part of the international settlements into the "new currency," in case this instrument will acquire the scale, then sanctions measures from the West may affect it as well. And we may see the next prohibitive measures of an international nature," he explained. 

According to Mr. Diakonov, China, as Russia's largest business partner, is not yet ready to switch to cryptocurrency trading. However, he suggested that the country would start using the digital yuan. "Here we see great prospects for creating new synthetic products that will become a growth point for the economy," he concluded. 

Earlier, the founder and CEO of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange Binance, Changpeng Zhao, said that next year there will be more transparency in the regulation of crypto-assets, and this is a positive signal for the market. In addition, there will be new options for their use. But the crypto market moves cyclically, and an upturn is followed by a downturn. Whether it happens next year or later is hard to predict. Asset volatility will continue regardless of who comes to the market. "Our personal goal for next year is to get as many licenses around the world as we can; we expect to get 10 to 20 more licenses next year." 

In addition, there will be new ways to use them. But the crypto market moves cyclically, and a period of recovery is followed by a recession – it will happen next year or later, it is difficult to predict. Asset volatility will continue regardless of who comes to the market. "Our personal goal for next year is to get as many licenses around the world as possible. We expect to get another 10-20 licenses next year." 

Earlier, the Ministry of Finance submitted to the government a bill on the legalization of cryptocurrencies. According to the document, Russians will have the right to legally invest up to 600 thousand rubles ($7,600) in cryptocurrency annually. However, this will require special testing.

A U.S. Group Hacked Top Research Institutes in India, Russia and China

 

According to a new report from a Beijing-based cybersecurity firm, hackers associated with the United States National Security Agency (NSA) were discovered to have inserted "covert backdoors" that could have given them access to sensitive information in dozens of countries, including India, Russia, China, and Japan. According to the report, it is getting traction in China's media after the country was accused with cyber hacking by the US. 

China's cyber-attacks target sensitive data stored by US institutions. It has become a thorn on the side of bilateral relations between the US and China. On the other side, Indian organisations believe that China hacks into sensitive data from government agencies and institutions. 

The National Security Agency (NSA) is a United States Department of Defense national-level intelligence agency that reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The NSA is in charge of worldwide information and data monitoring, gathering, and processing for foreign and domestic intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, specialised in a field known as signals intelligence (SIGINT). The NSA is also in charge of protecting the United States' communication networks and information systems. 

Among the allegedly hijacked websites named in the report were those associated with one of India's leading microbial research labs, the Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTech) under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as the Indian Academy of Sciences in Bengaluru. Websites associated with the Banaras Hindu University were also reported to have been hacked.

Pangu Lab, a Beijing-based cybersecurity firm, published a technical study outlining how it discovered the backdoors and linked them to "unique IDs in the operating manuals of the NSA" discovered in the 2013 leak of NSA documents by insiders. 

According to the Chinese firm, in 2013, CIA analyst Edward Snowden leaked very relevant NSA files. Because they reveal the NSA's unique IDs. The company discovered a key that unlocks a backdoor Bvp47. It is a hacking tool created in partnership with the National Security Agency by The Equation Group. It also led to the detection of a number of similar cyberattacks that used the same unique IDs as the NSA platform. 

According to the report, which outlined how the backdoor operated, this was a backdoor communication technology that has never been seen before, indicating an organisation with considerable technological capabilities behind it. “As an advanced attack tool, Bvp47 has allowed the world to see its complexity,” it said. “What is shocking is that after analysis, it has been realised that it may have existed for more than 10 years.”

ShadowPad Malware Attacks have been Linked to Chinese Ministry and PLA

 

ShadowPad, a sophisticated and modular backdoor that has been adopted by a growing number of Chinese threat organizations in recent years, has been revealed by cybersecurity researchers, who have also linked it to the country's civilian and military intelligence services. Since at least 2017, the Chinese government-sponsored BRONZE ATLAS threat organization has been using the ShadowPad sophisticated modular remote access trojan (RAT). 

Since 2019, a rising number of other Chinese threat groups have used it in attacks against firms in a variety of industrial verticals throughout the world. Analysis of ShadowPad samples by Secureworks Counter Threat Unit (CTU) found clusters of activity associated with threat groups affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), civilian intelligence agency, and the People's Liberation Army (PLA). 

ShadowPad rose to prominence in 2017 because it was used in software supply chain attacks involving CCleaner, NetSarang, and the ASUS Live Update utility. The BRONZE ATLAS threat group was blamed for these campaigns. A Microsoft complaint from 2017 and DOJ indictments released in 2020 provide more details on ShadowPad's relationship to BRONZE ATLAS. 

According to the Microsoft complaint, BRONZE ATLAS (also known as Barium) used ShadowPad to steal intellectual property and personally identifiable information in 2017. The malware was only utilised by BRONZE ATLAS at the time. According to the DOJ indictments, Chinese nationals working for the Chengdu 404 network security firm used ShadowPad in a global campaign ascribed to BRONZE ATLAS. 

Traditionally, malware payloads are sent to a host either encrypted within a DLL loader or embedded within a separate file alongside a DLL loader, which subsequently decrypts and executes the embedded ShadowPad payload in memory using a specific decryption technique tailored to the malware version. These DLL loaders run malware after being sideloaded by a genuine executable vulnerable to DLL search order hijacking, a technique that allows malware to run by hijacking the mechanism used to look for required DLLs to load into a programme. 

Secureworks discovered that certain infection chains include a third file containing the encrypted ShadowPad payload, which works by executing the genuine binary (e.g., BDReinit.exe or Oleview.exe) to sideload the DLL, which then loads and decrypts the third file. 

The incursions in one ShadowPad incident paved the door for conducting hands-on-keyboard attacks, which are attacks in which human hackers manually log into an infected system to execute commands rather than using automated scripts.

Chinese APT Actor Tracked as 'Antlion' Targeting Companies in Taiwan

 

It has been almost 18 months since the Chinese state-backed advanced persistent threat (APT) actor tracked as ‘Antlion’ has been attacking financial institutions and manufacturing companies in Taiwan state in a persistent campaign. The researchers at Symantec noted that the threat actors deployed a new custom backdoor named 'xPack' on compromised networks, which gave malicious actors wide access into the victim’s system.

The backdoor was designed to run WMI commands remotely, while it has also been seen that the attackers leveraged EternalBlue exploits in the backdoor. The attackers also interact with SMB shares, and it is also possible that the actors used mounted shares over SMB to transfer data to the command and control (C2) server. 

Furthermore, the attackers have successfully browsed the web through the backdoor, likely using it as a proxy to mask their IP address. Researchers believe that the malware was used in a campaign against Taiwan and had allowed the adversaries to run stealthy cyber-espionage operations. 

While dissecting such an attack, it could be seen that the malicious actors spent 175 days on the compromised network. However, the Symantec cyberthreat unit is studying two other incidents of such kind to determine how the adversary went undetected on the network for as long as 250 days. 

The researcher said that the new custom malware helped threat actors achieve this level of furtiveness; Symantec researchers have also deducted the following custom tools that help xPack in this operation. 

• EHAGBPSL – Custom C++ loader 
• CheckID – Custom C++ loader based on a similar tool used by the BlackHole RAT 
• JpgRun – Custom C++ loader 
• NetSessionEnum – Custom SMB session enumeration tool 
• Kerberos golden ticket tool based on the Mimikatz credentials stealer 
• ENCODE MMC – Custom bind/reverse file transfer tool 

"There is also evidence that the attackers likely automated the data collection process via batch scripts, while there is also evidence of instances where data was likely staged for further exfiltration, though it was not actually observed being exfiltrated from the network," explains Symantec.

Attackers Gained Access to the Systems of the National Games of China

 

China has recently had its own national sporting event: the National Games of China began on September 15, 2021, in the Chinese city of Shaanxi. This is a comparable event to the Olympics, however, it only features athletes from China. The National Games of the People's Republic of China, also known as the All-China Games, are China's biggest national sporting event. It is typically held every four years. 

David Álvarez, an Avast security researcher, discovered a malware sample with a peculiar file extension in early September and started to examine where it came from. Following that, he discovered a report submitted to VirusTotal by the National Games IT team on an attack against a server associated with the Games.

The data suggests that the attackers acquired initial code execution on September 3, 2021, about 10:00AM local time, and deployed their first reverse shell executing scripts called runscript.lua. Researchers believe this occurred as a result of an arbitrary file-read vulnerability targeting either route .lua which, according to the API (Application User Interface) extracted from various JavaScript files, is a LUA script containing a lot of functionality ranging from login authentication to file manipulation or index.lua in combination with index.lua?a=upload API that was not used by anyone else in the rest of the network log. It's also worth noticing that runscript.lua was not included in the report or among the files uploaded by the attacker. 

After gaining initial access, the attackers uploaded numerous other reverse shells, such as conf.lua, miss1.php, or admin2.php, to gain a more permanent foothold in the network in the event that one of the shells was found. Because these reverse shells receive commands via POST requests, the data is not contained in the logs attached to the report, which simply show the URL path. Furthermore, the logs in the report do not contain enough information about network traffic for researchers to understand how and when the attackers obtained their initial web shell. 

The method used by the attackers to hack the 14th National Games of China is not novel. They got access to the system by taking advantage of a flaw in the webserver. This highlights the importance of updating software, correctly configuring it, and being aware of potential new vulnerabilities in apps by employing vulnerability scanners.

The most essential security countermeasure for defenders is to maintain the infrastructure patched up to date (especially for the internet-facing infrastructure). The primary priority for both internal and internet-facing infrastructure should be prevention. According to the researchers, in order to fight against this type of attack, more layers of protection must be deployed so that users can identify and respond immediately when a successful breach occurs.

How Australia’s Leader Lost Control of His Chinese Social Media Account

 

After Prime Minister Scott Morrison's WeChat account was hacked, a Liberal member of parliament accused the Chinese government of foreign intervention. 

"It is a matter of record that the platform has stopped the Prime Minister's access, while Anthony Albanese's account is still active featuring posts criticising the government," Liberal representative Gladys Liu stated

"In an election year especially, this sort of interference in our political processes is unacceptable, and this matter should be taken extremely seriously by all Australian politicians." 

Liu stated she would stop utilizing her professional and personal WeChat accounts until the platform presented an explanation for the incident as part of her accusations against the Chinese government. 

Several Coalition members have supported Liu's charges and boycott, with Liberal Senator James Paterson, chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, asking for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to boycott WeChat as well. 

The Prime Minister's office is attempting to contact the Chinese government regarding the account hijacking, according to Stuart Robert, the Minister responsible for digital transformation, who told The Today Show on Monday morning. 

"It is odd, and of course, the Prime Minister's office is seeking to connect through to them to work out and get it resolved," Robert said. 

Morrison's WeChat account was apparently changed and he had accessibility issues months ago, according to NewsCorp Australia, with the Prime Minister being unable to access the account at all.

Morrison's account is linked to a Chinese national based in Fujian, according to Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Fergus Ryan, because WeChat's policies at the time mandated accounts to be linked to the ID of a Chinese national or a business registered in China. 

A Tencent spokesman confirmed to ZDNet on Monday evening that the account was originally registered by a PRC individual, but that it is currently being managed by a technology services organisation. 

"Based on our information, this appears to be a dispute over account ownership -- the account in question was originally registered by a PRC individual and was subsequently transferred to its current operator, a technology services company -- and it will be handled in accordance with our platform rules," the Tencent spokesperson said. 

"Tencent is committed to upholding the integrity of our platform and the security of all users accounts, and we will continue to look into this matter." 

According to ABC News, Morrison's WeChat account was sold to Fuzhou 985 Information Technology in November of last year by the registered owner. 

The Chinese corporation allegedly purchased the social media account since it had roughly 75,000 followers and had no idea it was owned by Morrison. 

WeChat has been subjected to increasing restrictions in China, after being placed on notice last year for gathering more user data than was considered essential while providing services.

APT41 Used the New MoonBounce UEFI Malware in Targeted Attacks

 

According to the Kaspersky researchers who discovered it, a new firmware bootkit discovered in the wild demonstrates remarkable advances over previous similar tools. MoonBounce is a harmful implant that hides in a computer's UEFI firmware in the system's SPI flash - a storage component external to the hard drive, making it difficult to remove and difficult for proprietary security products to detect. UEFI is a technical specification that aids in the interoperability of computer systems' operating systems (OS) and firmware software. 

Being able to place malicious code known as a "UEFI bootkit" in the firmware is an ideal approach to avoid detection by antivirus software and other security measures running at the OS level. This has been done before, with the FinFisher malware and the ESPecter backdoor being two recent instances. In general, these tools hijack the boot sequence and initialize it before the operating system's security components. They are extremely tenacious because they nest in regions that cannot be wiped, such as reserved disk space. 

"The source of the infection starts with a set of hooks that intercept the execution of several functions in the EFI Boot Services Table, namely AllocatePool, CreateEventEx, and ExitBootServices," explains Kaspersky in the report. "Those hooks are used to divert the flow of these functions to malicious shellcode that is appended by the attackers to the CORE_DXE image, which in turn sets up additional hooks in subsequent components of the boot chain, namely the Windows loader." 

MoonBounce is the third bootkit identified in the wild, following LoJax and MosaicRegressor, and it shows "substantial development, with a more sophisticated attack flow and better technical sophistication" when compared to predecessors. It was discovered in 2021 by Kaspersky using its Firmware Scanner, which is designed to detect threats hidden in the ROM BIOS, including UEFI firmware images.

Kaspersky discovered a plethora of evidence linking MoonBounce to APT41, ranging from the deployment of the ScrambleCross malware itself to unique certificates acquired from its C2 servers that correspond to earlier FBI reports on APT41 activities. While the United States Department of Justice discovered and charged five APT41 members in September 2020, the presence of MoonBounce and the operation around it demonstrates that the threat actors were not deterred by the legal pressure. 

According to the telemetry data, the attacks were extremely targeted, and Kaspersky only detected the firmware rootkit on one occasion. Kaspersky discovered several malware samples and loaders in other devices on the same network, however, they were non-UEFI implants. Microcin backdoor, Mimikat credential stealer, Go implant, StealthMutant loader, and ScrambleCross malware are a few examples.

China Accuses Walmart For Nineteen Cybersecurity Network Breaches

 

American retail giant 'Walmart' is alleged for causing nineteen cybersecurity incidents in the country by China, according to state-sponsored media. As per the reports, public security agencies found nineteen exploitable network security vulnerabilities in Walmart's network system on November 25, last year. 

The company didn't patch these vulnerabilities immediately, says China Quality News, a state-sponsored media for State Administration Market Supervision (SAMR) regulatory agency. The news outlet believes it is a breach of China's Internet Security Law. 

It also reports that an administrative penalty warning is issued besides an order to Walmart to correct their network flaws. No financial penalty has been issued to date. The Register reports, "the timing of the announcement is curious, as earlier in the week reports emerged in the Middle Kingdom that Walmart subsidiary Sam's Club was not stocking Xinjiang-produced goods." 

Xinjiang is a conflicted area in US-China relations, the west has a notion that China's minority Muslim Uyghur population members are kept detained in monitored internment camps, facing human rights violations. 

China, however, denies all these accusations of violations by the western world. Sam's Club in November last year claims to sell over four million Chinese memberships in 36 stores across 23 cities, saying its platform covered "most of the country." 

Sam's Club customers are canceling their memberships now because of the controversy. According to Reuters, Sam's Club puts the whole incident as a misunderstanding. 

It received a message from China's Central Commission for Discipline 
Inspection, alleging Sam's club of "secretly" and "maliciously" removing the products and giving a "deceptive excuse" of products not in stock. "Removing all products from a region without a valid reason hides an ulterior motive behind it, exposes stupidity and short-sightedness, and is bound to suffer its own evil consequences," said the Chinese agency. 

It also accused Sam's Club of using "dirty means to boycott" Chinese products and said customers would answer back by canceling their memberships.

Chinese Airlines Hacked by Foreign Spy Services

 

The Chinese government claimed on November 1, 2021, via official media, that foreign spy services had infiltrated various airlines and stolen passenger travel details. According to reports, such a pronouncement by the Chinese government is unprecedented. 

Authorities from China's Ministry of State Security, the country's civilian intelligence, security, and secret police agency, revealed the hacking effort the week before. The hacking activity was uncovered in January 2020 when one of China's airlines disclosed a security vulnerability to MSS officers. 

Investigators claimed they traced the breaches to a proprietary malware used by the attackers to steal passenger information and data from the very first victim. Following an inquiry, it was discovered that other airlines had been infiltrated in the same way. 

“After an in-depth investigation, it was confirmed that the attacks were carefully planned and secretly carried out by an overseas spy intelligence agency,” the MSS said in a press release distributed via state news channels. 

The MSS did not officially assign responsibility for the operation to any foreign organization or government. Two Chinese security firms, Qihoo 360 and QiAnxin, produced papers in March 2020 alleging the US Central Intelligence Agency of hacking Chinese enterprises, especially airlines, however the claims referred to past actions spanning between September 2008 and June 2019. 

The news statement is noteworthy in and of itself, given the Chinese government usually never discloses attacks carried out by foreign state-sponsored hackers. 

This is in stark contrast to how Western nations and commercial cyber-security providers handle similar crises. When a big security breach occurs, western security firms hurry to investigate and publish public blog articles about the assault, with government authorities issuing a formal statement and attribution weeks or months later. When it concerns the Middle Kingdom, things are quite the reverse. 

Following the major two reports from Qihoo 360 and QiAnxin in March 2020, this reporter contacted numerous Chinese security businesses and unaffiliated security researchers to enquire about how the Chinese state conducts international cyber-espionage assaults and the ensuing investigations and attribution. 

Several individuals, including officials from two large Chinese cybersecurity organizations, have stated that Chinese security firms routinely identify assaults involving foreign state actors, including the US.

One Million Users were Exposed Due to a VPN Provider's Misconfiguration

 

A misconfigured Elasticsearch server exposed the personally identifiable information (PII) of at least one million users of a Chinese-run VPN provider. According to WizCase, the privacy concern impacts Quickfox, a free VPN used mostly by the Chinese diaspora to access sites that are otherwise inaccessible from outside mainland China. Unfortunately, Fuzhou Zixun Network Technology, the owner of Quickfox, had not properly set up its Elastic Stack security, leaving an Elasticsearch server unprotected and accessible — with no password protection or encryption in place. 

Ata Hakcil headed a team of ethical cyber researchers who discovered a serious leak that exposed Quickfox's ElasticSearch server. The leak was caused by a security flaw in the ELK stack. Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana (ELK) are three open-source applications that make searching enormous files easier, such as the logs of an online service like Quickfox. 

Quickfox had put up access controls in Kibana, but they hadn't done the same for their Elasticsearch server. Anyone with a browser and an internet connection might gain access to Quickfox records and extract sensitive information about Quickfox users. 

Around 500 million records totaling over 100GB of data were exposed as a result of the incident. There were primarily two categories of data in the information. The personal information of around 1 million users was the first type. The second type concerned software installed on over 300,000 users' devices. The documents discovered were all dated between June 2021 and September 2021. 

According to the IP addresses discovered in the breach, it mostly affected individuals in the United States, as well as countries bordering China, such as Japan, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan. 

Customers' emails, IP addresses, phone numbers, data to identify device kind, and MD5 hashed passwords were among the PII revealed. MD5 is far from safe, according to WizCase, and can be cracked with modern technology. This would have been enough for criminals to use phishing emails, vishing phone calls, and other methods to obtain further sensitive information such as credit card or bank account numbers.

“The leaked information about device type and installed software could make this con very convincing,” warned WizCase. “It’s unclear why the VPN was collecting this data, as it is unnecessary for its process and it is not standard practice seen with other VPN services.” 

Cyber-criminals could try to hijack other accounts across the web by unmasking MD5 hashed passwords and using credential stuffing tactics, WizCase said. It advised consumers to thoroughly vet VPN providers before selecting one and to be aware that free services may benefit from the collection and use of client data.

Chinese Researchers Hack iPhone 13 Pro in Record Time

 

Cyber security researchers from China won $1.88 million after hacking some of the world’s most popular software at the annual Tianfu Cup, the fourth edition of the international hacking contest held in the city of Chengdu, China. 

The Tianfu Cup is similar to Pwn2Own where participants get rewarded for exploiting vulnerabilities in widely used software and hardware. It was created in the wake of government regulation in the country that restricted researchers from participating in international hacking competitions. The first edition was held in autumn 2018 where security researchers successfully hacked Edge, Chrome, Safari, iOS, Xiaomi, Vivo, VirtualBox, and other devices.

This year’s edition took place over the weekend on October 16 and 17, where the Kunlun Lab team, whose CEO is a former CTO of Qihoo 360, hacked the iPhone 13 Pro operating on a fully patched version of iOS 15.0.2 in record time. The iPhone 13 Pro was hacked live on stage using a remote code execution exploit of the mobile Safari web browser. However, Kunlun Lab wasn't the only team to hack the iPhone 13 Pro. Team Pangu, which has a history of Apple device jailbreaking, also hacked a fully patched iPhone 13 Pro running iOS 15, but took a few extra minutes.

The other targets included Google Chrome operating on Windows 10 21H1, Adobe PDF Reader, Docker CE, Ubuntu 20/CentOS 8, Microsoft Exchange Server 2019, Windows 10, VMware Workstation, VMware ESXi, Parallels Desktop, Apple Safari running on Macbook Pro, iPhone 13 Pro running iOS 15, domestic mobile phones running Android, QEMU VM, Synology DS220j DiskStation, and ASUS RT-AX56U router. 

The hacking contest saw three independent and parallel competitions. The competitions included PC, mobile, and server, and eight categories: Virtualization Software, Operating System Software, Browser Software, Office Software, Mobile Intelligent Devices, Web Services, and Applications Software, DNS Services Software, and Common Management Services Software.

The hacking competition also included a separate trade show and cybersecurity conference, which this year was presented by Qi Xiangdong, chairman of security firm QiAnXin, and also included sections dedicated to smart vehicle security, IoT security, artificial intelligence security, and smart city security.

Unpatched Dahua Cameras are Prone to Authentication Bypass Vulnerabilities

 

Two authentication bypass vulnerabilities exist in unpatched Dahua cameras, and a proof-of-concept exploit released on 7th October makes the case for upgrading urgent. Both CVE-2021-33044 and CVE-2021-33045 are authentication bypass weaknesses that can be remotely exploited during the login process by sending specially crafted data packets to the target device. 

This comes a month after Dahua issued a security advisory urging owners of vulnerable models to update their firmware, but given how often these devices are forgotten after initial setup and installation, it's possible that many of them are still running an old and vulnerable version. The list of impacted models is long and includes several Dahua cameras, including some thermal cameras. 

IPVM confirmed in 2019 that numerous Dahua cameras had a wiretapping vulnerability, based on tests and information from Dahua. Even if the camera's audio was turned off, an unauthenticated attacker could still listen in. 

An emergency investigation was conducted by the Dahua Security Team and the R&D Team, with the following preliminary findings: 

 • Unauthorized download vulnerability in video chat - This vulnerability no longer exists after code reworking because the relevant functional modules were refactored. Some EOL products would have posed a threat to security.

 • Replay attack vulnerability: This was a newly discovered vulnerability that had affected several Dahua products. 

Dahua spokesperson Tim Shen said, "Dahua uses the secure login authentication method “Digest” by default, but in order to be compatible with early devices, we also retain support for the login authentication method with insufficient security. This vulnerability just exploits these insecure login authentication methods." 

The flaw was initially reported to Dahua in May of 2019. Tenable Research Engineer Jacob Baines discovered a vulnerability within an Amcrest (Dahua OEM) camera's firmware (PoC here, CVE-2019-3948), allowing unauthenticated access to the audio stream. 

The Chinese surveillance camera provider Dahua Technology has been barred from doing business and selling products in the United States since October 2019, when it was added to the US Department of Commerce's 'Entity List.' However, tens of thousands of Dahua cameras are still in use around the country, and some of them may not be readily apparent. Many cameras marketed in the United States under American or Canadian brands use Dahua hardware and even software, according to a new revelation from The Intercept.

Chinese Threat Actors Spy On Windows 10 Users, Reports Kaspersky

 

An unknown anonymous Chinese speaking hacker has been associated with a long term evasive campaign targeted towards South East Asian victims, the campaign dates back to July 2020, deploying a kernel-mode rootkit on breached Windows devices. Attacks carried out by the group (Hackers) is termed GhostEmperor by Kaspersky cybersecurity, the group is said to have deployed a "sophisticated multi-stage malware framework" which enables persistence help and remote control over the victim host.

Kaspersky has termed the rootkit as Demodex, findings indicate infections has been spread out throughout various high-profile organizations in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, besides this Egypt, Afghanistan and Ethiopia outliers are also in the list. Threat actors use Demodex toolkit to cover up malware artefacts (user mode) from experts and cybersecurity agencies, meanwhile showing a surprisingly good undocumented loading program which involves kernel mode component of an open source project called Cheat Engine to evade Windows Driver Signature Enforcement feature.

Experts have observed that GhostEmperor infections leverage multiple access paths that end in the deployment of malware in memory, exploiting known vulnerabilities in open source servers like Apache, Oracle, Microsoft Exchange and Windows IIS, which includes ProxyLogon exploits that surfaced in March 2021. The purpose was to have an upper hand and then move out to other parts of target's network, including machines that run on earlier versions of Windows 10 OS. 

Aftern a successful breach, the selected infection chains which deployed toolkits were carried out remotely via different system in the same network using genuine software like PsExec or WMI, resulting in the execution of implant (in-memory) that could install additional payloads during run time. The Hacker News reports "disclosure comes as a China-linked threat actor codenamed TAG-28 has been discovered as being behind intrusions against Indian media and government agencies such as The Times Group, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), and the police department of the state of Madhya Pradesh."

NSA’s Cyber Chief Warned About the Increasing Cyber Threat

 

On Wednesday the 29th of September, the chief of the cyber branch of the National Security Agency cautioned about the growing number of digital dangers and threats that these cybercriminals pose. 

Rob Joyce, Director of the NSA Cybersecurity Directorate, stated during the ASPEN Cyber Summit in Colorado that nearly every single government in the world today has a cyber exploitation program. 

Joyce has been a special assistant of the president and cyber security coordinator of the National Security Council in 2018, with many other responsibilities in the nation's leading e-spy agency. 

“The vast majority of those are used for espionage and intelligence purposes, but… there is interest in dabbling in offensive cyber and outcomes. The difference between the top of the list and the bottom of the list, usually, is scale,” stated Joyce. 

There are some “high-end, sophisticated small actors, but they’re confined to whatever that national interest is that they’re aimed at so we see less of them.” 

Joyce also gave his evaluated statements on the so-called "Big Four" and the latest internet business of the foreign states who were historically the digital opponents of America — Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. 

Starting with Russia he said that, it's the distressing force. Often they attempt not to boost their activities but to pull others down. They are still extremely active in intelligence-gathering efforts targeting vital infrastructure and countries. The problem is that they employ disruptive effects all around the world aggressively. The organization saw indications of U.S. vital infrastructure pre-positioning. For this everyone must strive against every item that can't be permitted. 

Further, talking about China he noted that, Chinese is off the charts, considering the scale and scope. The number of cyber actors from China is growing all over the world. NSA respected them less than that from four or five years ago to the present day, the changes as perceived. They have always been wide, loud, and boisterous, and what the organization discovers, the elite in that group is the elite if one has such a vast resource base. 

“The high end of the Chinese sophistication is really good. We’ve got to continue to understand, disrupt and then find ways across the whole of that technology to kind of push back… Yes, defense is really important, but you also have to work to disrupt so that’s the continuous engagement strategy out of the [Defense Department] and the idea that we got to put sand and friction in their operations, so they don’t get just free shots on goal,” he added. 

Later he made statements about Iran saying that Iran is still operational in cyber activities. Certainly, they were the first and foremost nation when everyone spoke of a bank distributed denial of service operations and the Shamoon Wiper malware. However what NSA observed is that they often concentrate very much on regional matters, at present. Their attention was not as broad on the impact. But they are capable, especially because their decision is less judgmental, and most crucially because it is a realistic measure. Iran sometimes does not appreciate how much it has done to, or has gone far as to arouse the wrath and concern of the larger community. 

Lastly, he told that North Korea remains extremely focused on the regime's income creation, as North Korea can not be affected even with several sanctions. They, therefore, had to develop ways to create cash, trade and realized that it is simpler to steal Bitcoin than to steal from Bangladesh Bank. They didn't attack the largest banks as hard, since in the crypto realm they made their required money. 

“The commercial firms were dealing with a lot of North Korean issues back when the [Covid-19] vaccine was an issue; they were going after the intellectual property of vaccine makers. So, still active, still a threat, very capable but mostly focused on crypto exchanges and creating money.” He added. 

Threat Actors from China Infiltrated a Major Afghan Telecom Provider

 

Just as the US was completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan, several China-linked cyberespionage groups were seen intensifying attacks on a major telecom corporation. Recorded Future, a threat intelligence firm, reported on Tuesday that it has witnessed four different Chinese threat groups target a mail server belonging to Roshan, a large telecom provider in Afghanistan with over 6.5 million subscribers. 

According to Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis at Kentik and a veteran observer of worldwide traffic trends, “Roshan is one of the largest suppliers of Internet access to the people of Afghanistan” and a major source of online traffic in and out of the nation. 

Calypso and RedFoxtrot, as well as two different Winnti and PlugX activity clusters that Recorded Future researchers were unable to link to other known actors, carried out the attacks. The researchers believe it's not unusual for Chinese hackers to target the same Roshan mail server because they often have diverse intelligence requirements and don't coordinate their actions. 

Some of the groups had been able to access the mail server for months, but the attacks seemed to pick up steam in August and September, just as US forces were leaving Afghanistan. During this time, the researchers noted an uptick in data exfiltration activity. 

Roshan was told of the compromises by Recorded Future before Insikt Group made the assaults public. A Chinese Embassy spokesperson described pinpointing the source of cyber assaults as a "difficult technological problem" in an email sent after the report was posted. 

“Linking cyber-attacks directly to one certain government is a highly sensitive political issue. China hopes that relevant parties will adopt a professional and responsible attitude,” the statement said. “Qualitativing cyber incidents must be based on sufficient evidence instead of groundless speculation,” the spokesperson wrote. 

The first activity linked to Roshan, according to the experts, was tied to the suspected Chinese state-sponsored group Calypso Advanced Persistent Threat (APT). That infiltration appears to have started in July 2020 and continued through September 2021, with a spike in activity in August and September of this year. 

From at least March through May of this year, the researchers discovered the same Roshan mail server connecting with the infrastructure of another known suspected Chinese APT group, RedFoxtrot. 

According to an Insikt report published Tuesday, RedFoxtrot also appeared to have infiltrated another undisclosed Afghan cellular operator during this time. RedFoxtrot was previously identified as targeting unnamed telecommunications firms in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan, according to a study published by the research team in June. The RedFoxtrot was also linked to Unit 69010 of the People's Liberation Army in Ürümqi, Xinjiang, according to the study.

Years-Long Attack by Chinese-Linked APT Groups Discovered by McAfee

 

A cyber-attack that had been sitting on the target organization's network for years stealing data was discovered during a McAfee investigation into a suspected malware infection. The sophisticated threat actors utilized a mix of known and novel malware tools in the attack, called Operation Harvest, to infiltrate the victim's IT infrastructure, exfiltrate data, and avoid detection, according to the investigators. McAfee researchers were able to narrow down the list of suspects to two advanced persistent threat (APT) nation-state groups with ties to China during the course of the two-month investigation. 

“Operation Harvest has been a long-term operation whereby an adversary maintained access for multiple years to exfiltrate data,” Christiaan Beek, lead scientist and senior principal engineer for the Enterprise Office of the CTO at McAfee, wrote in a report. 

“The exfiltrated data would have either been part of an intellectual property theft for economic purposes and/or would have provided insights that would be beneficial in case of military interventions. The adversaries made use of techniques very often observed in this kind of attack but also used distinctive new backdoors or variants of existing malware families,” Beek added. 

The actor gained initial access by compromising the victim's web server, which contained software to maintain the existence and storage of tools needed to acquire information about the victim's network and lateral movement/execution of files, according to forensic investigations. 

Between the operating method of the unique encryption function in the custom backdoor and the code used in the DLL, the adversaries used techniques that are commonly seen in this type of attack, but they also used distinctive new backdoors or variants of existing malware families, almost identical to methods attributed to the Winnti malware family. According to the findings, the adversary was looking to steal proprietary knowledge for military or intellectual property/manufacturing reasons.

McAfee investigators drew out MITRE ATT&CK Enterprise methods, added the tools utilized, and compared the information to previous technique data to figure out who the perpetrators were. They discovered four groups that shared the same tactics and sub-techniques and then used a chart to narrow down the suspects to APT27 and APT41.

“After mapping out all data, TTP’s [tactics, techniques, and procedures] etc., we discovered a very strong overlap with a campaign observed in 2019/2020,” Beek wrote. “A lot of the (in-depth) technical indicators and techniques match. Also putting it into perspective, and over time, it demonstrates the adversary is adapting skills and evolving the tools and techniques being used.”