Multiple cybersecurity agencies warn of China-linked APT40 ‘s capabilities

Pierluigi Paganini July 10, 2024

Multiple cybersecurity agencies released a joint advisory warning about a China-linked group APT40 ‘s capability to rapidly exploit disclosed security flaws.

Cybersecurity agencies from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the U.K., and the U.S. released a joint advisory warning about the China-linked group APT40 (aka TEMP.PeriscopeTEMP.Jumper, Bronze Mohawk, Gingham Typhoon, ISLANDDREAMS, Kryptonite Panda, Red Ladon, TA423, and Leviathan) and its capability to rapidly exploit disclosed flaws

The China-linked group was able to exploit vulnerabilities within hours or days of the public disclosure.

APT40 has previously targeted organizations in countries like Australia and the United States. The group is able to rapidly adapt vulnerability proofs of concept (POCs) for their operations. They identify new exploits in widely used public software, such as Log4J, Atlassian Confluence, and Microsoft Exchange, to target the associated infrastructure.

“APT 40 has previously targeted organizations in various countries, including Australia and the United States. Notably, APT 40 possesses the ability to quickly transform and adapt vulnerability proofs of concept (POCs) for targeting, reconnaissance, and exploitation operations.” reads the advisory. “APT 40 identifies new exploits within widely used public software such as Log4J, Atlassian Confluence and Microsoft Exchange to target the infrastructure of the associated vulnerability.

In July 2021, the U.S. Justice Department (DoJ) indicted four members of the cyber espionage group APT40 (aka TEMP.PeriscopeTEMP.Jumper, and Leviathan) for hacking tens of government organizations, private businesses and universities around the world between 2011 and 2018.

The APT40 group has been active since at least 2013, it is focused on targeting countries important to the country’s Belt and Road Initiative (i.e. Cambodia, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom).

The group appears to be focused on supporting the naval modernization efforts of the Government of Beijing. Threat actors target engineering, transportation, and defense sectors, experts observed a specific interest in maritime technologies.

The cyberspies also targeted research centres and universities involved in naval research with the intent to access advanced technology to push the growth of the Chinese naval industry. The list of victims of the APT40 group also includes organizations with operations in Southeast Asia or involved in South China Sea disputes.

Three of the defendants are said to be officers in a provincial arm of the MSS and one was an employee of a front company that was used to obfuscate the government’s role in the hacking campaigns.

“APT40 regularly conducts reconnaissance against networks of interest, including networks in the authoring agencies’ countries, looking for opportunities to compromise its targets. This regular reconnaissance postures the group to identify vulnerable, end-of-life or no longer maintained devices on networks of interest, and to rapidly deploy exploits. APT40 continues to find success exploiting vulnerabilities from as early as 2017.” continues the joint advisory. “APT40 rapidly exploits newly public vulnerabilities in widely used software such as Log4J (CVE-2021-44228), Atlassian Confluence (CVE-2021-31207CVE-2021-26084) and Microsoft Exchange (CVE-2021-31207CVE-2021-34523CVE-2021-34473). ASD’s ACSC and the authoring agencies expect the group to continue using POCs for new high-profile vulnerabilities within hours or days of public release.”

APT40 China

APT40 use to exploit vulnerable public-facing infrastructure over other hacking techniques like phishing. They prioritize obtaining valid credentials for subsequent activities. The group often relies on web shells to maintain persistence early in an intrusion. Persistence is established early in an intrusion, making it likely to be observed in all cases, regardless of the level of compromise or further actions taken.

In the past, the APT40 was observed using compromised Australian websites as C2 servers, however he recently evolved this technique.

“APT40 has embraced the global trend of using compromised devices, including small-office/home-office (SOHO) devices, as operational infrastructure and last-hop redirectors [T1584.008] for its operations in Australia. This has enabled the authoring agencies to better characterize and track this group’s movements.” continues the report.

Many of the compromised SOHO devices are end-of-life or unpatched that can be easily hacked using N-day exploits. Compromised SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) devices provide attackers with a platform to launch attacks by mimicking legitimate traffic.

The report provides details about Tactics, Techniques, and Procesured associated by the the group and detection and mitigation recommendations.

Pierluigi Paganini

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook and Mastodon

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, China)

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