China-linked spies target Asian Telcos since at least 2021

Pierluigi Paganini June 20, 2024

A China-linked cyber espionage group has compromised telecom operators in an Asian country since at least 2021.

The Symantec Threat Hunter Team reported that an alleged China-linked APT group has infiltrated several telecom operators in a single, unnamed, Asian country at least since 2021.

The threat actors used tools associated with Chinese espionage groups, they planted multiple backdoors on the networks of targeted companies to steal credentials. 

“The attacks have been underway since at least 2021, with evidence to suggest that some of this activity may even date as far back as 2020. Virtually all of the organizations targeted were telecoms operators, with the addition of a services company that serves the telecoms sector and a university in another Asian country.” reads the report published by Broadcom Symantec Threat Hunter Team.

Evidence collected by the experts suggests that the cluster activity may have been active since 2020.

In a recent espionage campaign, the attackers employed custom malware associated with several Chinese APT groups. Some of the malware used by the threat actors are:

  • Coolclient: A backdoor linked to the Fireant group (also known as Mustang Panda or Earth Preta). It logs keystrokes, manages files, and communicates with a C2 server. This campaign used a version of VLC Media Player (disguised as googleupdate.exe) to sideload a Coolclient loader, which then reads and executes encrypted payloads.
  • Quickheal: A backdoor associated with the Needleminer group (also known as RedFoxtrot or Nomad Panda). The variant used by the attackers in recent attacks was a 32-bit DLL that communicated with a hardcoded C&C server using a custom protocol mimicking SSL traffic.
  • Rainyday: A backdoor, linked to the Firefly group (also known as Naikon), was used in a recent espionage campaign.

In addition to utilizing custom backdoors. the cyber espionage group also employed a range of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to compromise their targets. They deployed custom keylogging malware, port scanning tools, credential theft through the dumping of registry hives, a publicly available tool known as Responder that acts as a Link-Local Multicast Name Resolution (LLMNR) NetBIOS Name Service (NBT-NS) and multicast DNS (mDNS) poisoner, and enabling RDP. 

“Tools used in this campaign have strong associations with multiple Chinese groups and at least three of the custom backdoors deployed are believed to be used exclusively by Chinese espionage actors.” concludes the report.” “The nature of the link between the actors involved in the current campaign remains unclear. Possibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Attacks by multiple actors, acting independently of one another.
  • A single actor using tools and/or personnel acquired from or shared by other groups.
  • Multiple actors collaborating in a single campaign.

The ultimate motive of the intrusion campaign remains unclear.”

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook and Mastodon

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, China)

you might also like

leave a comment