FireEye uncovered two cyber espionage campaigns operating in parallel from China

Pierluigi Paganini September 12, 2014

FireEye discovered two distinct groups of Chinese hackers operating cyber espionage campaigns on a large-scale in parallel.

Security experts at FireEye have discovered two hacking campaigns conducted by distinct groups operating in separate regions of China that seems to work in parallel.

The first team of hackers, named Moafee, is targeting military and government organizations which were in some way involved in South China sea dispute. The attackers targeted different organizations as explained by the researchers at FireEye in a blog post, and appears to operate from the Guangdong Province and hit entities working in the defense industry in the United States.

The second team, dubbed DragonOK, conducted corporate espionage operations on high-tech and manufacturing companies in Japan and Taiwan.

FireEye researchers will be publishing a report that details two attack campaigns by different groups in separate regions of China, apparently operating in parallel.” states the post published by FireEye. “It seems that both groups, while operating in distinctly different regions, either 1) collaborate, 2) receive the same training), 3) share a common toolkit supply chain, or 4) some combination of these scenarios, which means they are employing a ‘production line’-type approach to initiating cyber attacks to breach defenses,” the researchers blogged. “Both campaigns use similar tools, techniques and procedures (TTPs) – including custom-built backdoors and remote-administration tools (RATs) to infiltrate their targets’ networks.”

Moafee and DragonOK teams use similar tools, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for their espionage campaigns, and further element that seems to confirm they are operating in parallel is that the both groups used custom-built backdoors and remote administration tools (RATs) to compromise the targeted networks.

“The two different operators seem to share backdoors and RATs – some of which are custom; others are publicly available. Overlapping tools include:

Hackers of the two teams both use the HUC Packet Transmit Tool (HTRAN) proxy tool hide the origin of the attacks, the technique was already used by China based hackers in different campaign, including Beebus cyber espionage campaign, which targeted defense and aerospace industries to steal intellectual property and industrial secrets from US companies.

espionage China campaign

The hackers conducted spear-phishing attacks using most advanced social engineering techniques to deceive victims, the mail sent are written in victim’s native language and used password-protected documents and large file sizes to maqsuerade their attacks.

“Both Moafee and DragonOK favor spear-phishing emails as an attack vector, often employing a decoy to deceive the victim,” according to the researchers. “The emails are well crafted and audience specific, even written in the intended victim’s native language. Attachments are typically sent as an executable file embedded in a ZIP archive or a password-protected Microsoft Office document. We also observed both groups using decoy documents that are presented to the victim while the malware runs in the background.”

The experts of FireEye were able to track back the command and controls used by both groups, the Moafee group was running HTRAN proxies on multiple C&Cs operated on CHINANET and hosted in Guangdong Province the C&C servers operates by DragonOK were also operated on CHINANET but are hosted in the Jiangsu Province.

The experts also discovered a third hacking team operating with same techniques and tools, but there aren’t enough elements to link it to Moafee and DragonOK.

The experts closed the post highlighting that by sharing TTPs and coordinating joint attacks, the bad actors are leveraging China’s supply chain economic expertise to perform extensive worldwide espionage.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Cyber espionage, China)

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