Lotus Blossom Chinese cyberspies leverage on fake Conference Invites in the last campaign

Pierluigi Paganini October 31, 2016

The Chinese APT Lotus Blossom is trying to lure victims with fake invitations to Palo Alto Networks’ upcoming Cybersecurity Summit.

The Chinese APT Lotus Blossom, also known as Elise and Esile, is behind a new cyber espionage campaign that is trying to lure victims with fake invitations to Palo Alto Networks’ upcoming Cybersecurity Summit.

With this social engineering trick the attackers are trying to trick users into installing a strain of malware that could be used to spy on victims’ machines.

Security experts that analyzed the activity of the Lotus Blossom APT believe it is nation state actor that has been around since at least 2012.

In June 2015, Trend Micro published a report on a targeted attack campaign of the group that hit organizations in various countries in the Southeast Asian region. The experts speculated the involvement of state-sponsored hackers due to the nature of the stolen information.

“The Esile targeted attack campaign targeting various countries in the Southeast Asian region has been discussed in the media recently. This campaign – which was referred to by other researchers as Lotus Blossom – is believed to be the work of a nation-state actor due to the nature of the stolen information, which is more valuable to countries than either private companies or cybercriminals.” wrote Trend Micro.

According to Trend Micro, other researchers have collected evidence that dates back to 2007 first activities of the group.

Back to the present, the Lotus Blossom group launched a new espionage campaign using fake invitations to Palo Alto Networks’ Cybersecurity Summit that will be held in  Jakarta, on November 3.

“Actors related to the Operation Lotus Blossom campaign continue their attack campaigns in the Asia Pacific region. It appears that these threat actors have begun using Palo Alto Networks upcoming Cyber Security Summit hosted on November 3, 2016 in Jakarta, Indonesia as a lure to compromise targeted individuals.” states the blog post published by Palo Alto Networks. “The payload installed in attacks using this lure is a variant of the Emissary Trojan that we have analyzed in the past, which has direct links to threat actors associated with Operation Lotus Blossom.”


The security experts from Palo Alto Networks observed that cyberspies used the trick to deliver a new version of the Emissary Trojan.

The hackers powered a spear phishing campaign leveraging on emails with Word document attachments titled “[FREE INVITATIONS] CyberSecurity Summit.doc.” The document, which contains an image from a previous invitation, attempts to exploit the old Microsoft Office vulnerability tracked as CVE-2012-0158 to deliver the malicious payload.

“As our readers and customers in Indonesia are likely recipients of this phishing e-mail, we want to release some key facts to clarify the situation.

  1. The malicious email will have an attachment named “[FREE INVITATIONS] CyberSecurity Summit.doc” that if opened will exploit CVE-2012-0158. The legitimate invitation emails from Palo Alto Networks did not carry any attachments.
  2. In response to this incident, we have halted our email invitations, so please disregard all new emails related to invitations to this conference, as it may be malicious.
  3. Individuals wishing to attend the conference should register on our official CYBERSECURITY SUMMIT – JAKARTA website.”

Palo Alto Networks has opted to stop sending out email invitations due to the ongoing spear phishing campaign and is inviting users in Indonesia to ignore any message receive these days regarding the event.

The image was obtained from a screenshot of an older invitation that was properly edited. The researchers managed to revert the images to before they were cropped to extract information on the system used by the attackers.

“The information in the screenshot and an analysis of the document’s timestamp suggested that the user was located in China.” continues the report.

“The threat actor is running Windows localized for Chinese users, which suggests the actor’s primary language is Chinese. The ‘CH’ icon in the Windows tray shows that the built-in Windows input method editor (IME) is currently set to Chinese,” researchers explained. “Also, the screenshot shows a popular application in China called Sogou Pinyin, which is an IME that allows a user to type Chinese characters using Pinyin. Pinyin is critical to be able to type Chinese characters using a standard Latin alphabet keyboard, further suggesting the threat actor speaks Chinese.”

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – cyber espionage, hacking)

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