Hackers breached a server of National Games of China days before the event

Pierluigi Paganini February 07, 2022

An unnamed Chinese-language-speaking hacking group compromised systems at National Games of China in 2021.

Researchers at cybersecurity firm Avast discovered that a Chinese-language-speaking threat actor has compromised systems at National Games of China in 2021. The event took place on September 15, 2021 in Shaanxi (China), it is a national version of the Olympics with only local athletes.

The attackers breached a web server on September 3rd and deployed multiple reverse web shells to establish a permanent foothold in the target network.

Experts noticed that the threat actors started a reconnaissance phase in August, they have done some tests to determine which type of file was possible to upload to the server. In order to perform the tests, attackers seem to have exploited a vulnerability in the webserver.

The attackers tried submitting files with different file-types and also file extensions, such as a legitimate image with different file extensions: ico, lua, js, luac, txt, html and rar.

“After gaining knowledge on blocked and allowed file types, they tried to submit executable code. Of course, they started submitting PoCs instead of directly executing a webshell because submitting PoCs is more stealthy and also allows one to gain knowledge on what the malicious code is allowed to do.” reported Avast. “For instance, one of the files uploaded was this Lua script camouflaged as an image (20210903-160250-168571-ab1c20.jpg)”

The attackers reconfigured the web server by uploading a configuration file, camouflaged as a PNG file, that allowed the execution of lua scripts. Experts found evidence that the server was configured to execute new threads in a thread pool which didn’t work for Rebeyond Behinder webshell. Then, as a final payload, the attackers uploaded and ran an entire Tomcat server properly configured and weaponized with Rebeyond Behinder.

After gaining access to the server, the attackers tried to perform lateral movements by brute-forcing services and using exploits in an automated way. Attackers were able to upload some tools (dnscrypt-proxyfscanmssql-command-toolbehinder) to the server and execute a network scanner (fscan) and a custom one-click exploitation framework written in Go and distributed as a single binary.

“The procedure followed by the attackers hacking the 14th National Games of China is not new at all. They gained access to the system by exploiting a vulnerability in the web server. This shows the need for updating software, configuring it properly and also being aware of possible new vulnerabilities in applications by using vulnerability scanners.” concludes the report. “The most fundamental security countermeasure for defenders consists in keeping the infrastructure up-to-date in terms of patching. Especially for the Internet facing infrastructure.”

Avast reported that the security breach appears to have been resolved before the beginning of the games, however, the experts were not able to determine the type of information exfiltrated by the threat actor.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, National Games of China)

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