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Chinese Origin Threat Group Targets Hong Kong Universities With New Backdoor Variant

Researchers from ESET attributed the attack and the backdoor to SparklingGoblin, an advanced persistent threat (APT) group that targets organizations mostly in East and Southeast Asia, with a focus on the academic sector, they said in a blog post published Sept. 14.

Chinese Origin Threat Group Targets Hong Kong Universities with New Backdoor Variant

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BlackTech is a threat group known primarily for conducting cyber espionage operations against targets in East Asia, with a focus on Taiwan and Japan. The group has likely been active for a number of years and is responsible for several separate campaigns leveraging overlapping infrastructure. BlackTech often abuses legitimate software tools and processes to achieve its goals, using stolen digital certificates and API hooking among other techniques.

There is notable overlap and a significant lack of clarity within the commercial cybersecurity community on precisely which groups are behind the many intrusions that have been lumped together under the Winnti umbrella. Some notable software supply chain attacks that have been potentially linked to the group by various cybersecurity researchers include the CCleaner, NetSarang, and Asus Live Update compromises. Given the history of software tool sharing amongst Chinese threat actors and the likelihood that multiple state-sponsored actors are targeting similar sets of victims, it becomes quite difficult to parse exactly which group may be behind a given intrusion, especially given the limited visibility that any one victim or vendor may have. In any case, the overarching tactics and targets described above can safely be ascribed to PRC cyber operators, regardless of how specifically each discrete intrusion can be attributed.

BRONZE BUTLER is a cyber espionage group with likely Chinese origins that has been active since at least 2008. The group primarily targets Japanese organizations, particularly those in government, biotechnology, electronics manufacturing, and industrial chemistry.

OilRig is a suspected Iranian threat group that has targeted Middle Eastern and international victims since at least 2014. The group has targeted a variety of sectors, including financial, government, energy, chemical, and telecommunications. It appears the group carries out supply chain attacks, leveraging the trust relationship between organizations to attack their primary targets. FireEye assesses that the group works on behalf of the Iranian government based on infrastructure details that contain references to Iran, use of Iranian infrastructure, and targeting that aligns with nation-state interests.

Winnti Group is a threat group with Chinese origins that has been active since at least 2010. The group has heavily targeted the gaming industry, but it has also expanded the scope of its targeting. Some reporting suggests a number of other groups, including Axiom, APT17, and Ke3chang, are closely linked to Winnti Group.

Green Lambert is a modular backdoor that security researchers assess has been used by an advanced threat group referred to as Longhorn and The Lamberts. First reported in 2017, the Windows variant of Green Lambert may have been used as early as 2008; a macOS version was uploaded to a multiscanner service in September 2014.

KillDisk is a disk-wiping tool designed to overwrite files with random data to render the OS unbootable. It was first observed as a component of BlackEnergy malware during cyber attacks against Ukraine in 2015. KillDisk has since evolved into stand-alone malware used by a variety of threat actors against additional targets in Europe and Latin America; in 2016 a ransomware component was also incorporated into some KillDisk variants.

ShadowPad is a modular backdoor that was first identified in a supply chain compromise of the NetSarang software in mid-July 2017. The malware was originally thought to be exclusively used by APT41, but has since been observed to be used by various Chinese threat activity groups.

Tick is a cyber espionage group with likely Chinese origins that has been active since at least 2008. The group appears to have close ties to the Chinese National University of Defense and Technology, which is possibly linked to the PLA. This threat actor targets organizations in the critical infrastructure, heavy industry, manufacturing, and international relations sectors for espionage purposes. The attacks appear to be centered on political, media, and engineering sectors. STALKER PANDA has been observed conducting targeted attacks against Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States.

On February 25, 2020, it was reported that Australian banks and other financial institutions were being extorted by the Silence group with DDoS attacks unless they paid a ransom. DDoS attacks have taken place but not against all targets, as they do not have the resources to attack all those threatened. The Silence group has also been linked to stealing from banks across Eastern Europe, South and Central Asia, and more recently, Sub-Saharan Africa. The group demanded payment in the cryptocurrency Monero to prevent the attack.

An emerging international cybergang is broadening its targets to include North American media firms, universities and one computer retailer. The advanced persistent threat (APT) group is new, according to researchers who dubbed it SparklingGoblin. Also new is a novel backdoor technique, called SideWalk, used by the APT to penetrate cybersecurity defenses.

The PT Expert Security Center regularly spots emerging threats to information security, including both previously known and newly discovered malware. During such monitoring in May 2020, we detected several samples of new malware that at first glance would seem to belong to the Higaisa group. But detailed analysis pointed to the Winnti group (also known as APT41, per FireEye) of Chinese origin. Subsequent monitoring led us to discover a number of new malware samples used by the group in recent attacks. These include various droppers, loaders, and injectors; Crosswalk, ShadowPad, and PlugX backdoors; and samples of a previously undescribed backdoor that we have dubbed FunnySwitch. We can confidently state that some of these attacks were directed at a number of organizations in Russia and Hong Kong.

One distinguishing trait of the group's backdoors is support for multiple transport protocols for connecting to C2 servers, which complicates efforts to detect malicious traffic. Malicious files of varying resemblance are used to install the payload, from primitive RAR and SFX-RAR files to reuse of malware from other groups and multistage threats with vulnerability exploits and non-trivial shellcode loaders. But the payload may be one and the same in all these cases. Most likely, the choice is dictated by the precision (or lack thereof) of an attack: unique infection chains and highly attractive bait are held back for targeted attacks.

On 1 September 2011, a new worm was found, thought to be related to Stuxnet. The Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security (CrySyS) of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics analyzed the malware, naming the threat Duqu.[168][169] Symantec, based on this report, continued the analysis of the threat, calling it "nearly identical to Stuxnet, but with a completely different purpose", and published a detailed technical paper.[170] The main component used in Duqu is designed to capture information[63] such as keystrokes and system information. The exfiltrated data may be used to enable a future Stuxnet-like attack. On 28 December 2011, Kaspersky Lab's director of global research and analysis spoke to Reuters about recent research results showing that the platform Stuxnet and Duqu both originated in 2007, and is being referred to as Tilded due to the d at the beginning of the file names. Also uncovered in this research was the possibility for three more variants based on the Tilded platform.[171]

SoleDragon is complex malware used by the SilentBreak threat group. Kaspersky first discovered this malware in 2018, together with the CVE-2018-8453 vulnerability. In 2019, SoleDragon was also deployed through Skype. After that, there was no information about SoleDragon until we detected two new implants at the end of 2021. The implants, which targeted organizations in the Middle East, share code similarities with older SoleDragon samples. One of the newly discovered implants is a C++ backdoor, SoleExecutor, that waits for an activation message, then receives a DLL and launches it; the other implant is a keylogger we dubbed Powerpol.

In September, we published our analysis of Metatron, a new and very sophisticated malware platform that has been used to target telecoms companies, ISPs and universities in the Middle East and Africa. Metatron is a modular implant boot-strapped through a Microsoft Console Debugger script. The backdoor supports multiple transport modes and offers forwarding and port knocking features: it implements 67 different commands. The original samples were provided by SentinelOne and analysed in collaboration with them.

Geopolitical tensions often make headlines and present a golden opportunity for threat actors to exploit the situation, especially those targeting high-profile victims. In the past month while the Russian invasion of Ukraine was unfolding, Check Point Research (CPR) has observed advanced persistent threat (APT) groups around the world launching new campaigns, or quickly adapting ongoing ones to target victims with spear-phishing emails using the war as a lure. The attackers use decoys ranging from official-looking documents to news articles or even job postings, depending on the targets and region. Many of these lure documents utilize malicious macros or template injection to gain an initial foothold into the targeted organizations, and then launch malware attacks.The use of the conflict as a bait is not limited to a specific region or APT group, it goes from Latin America to the Middle East and to Asia. In this article, CPR will provide an overview of several campaigns by different APT groups using the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war to increase the efficiency of their campaigns. CPR will discuss the victimology of these campaigns; the tactics used, and provide technical analysis of the observed malicious payloads and malware. Below are the campaigns identified and profiled in this article:


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