China-linked Emissary Panda APT group targets National Data Center in Asia

Pierluigi Paganini June 14, 2018

A China-linked APT group, LuckyMouse, Emissary Panda, APT27 and Threat Group 3390, has targeted a national data center in Central Asia.

The APT group has been active since at least 2010, the crew targeted U.S. defense contractors and financial services firms worldwide.

In March 2018, security experts at Kaspersky Lab have observed an attack powered by the Chinese APT group, the experts speculate the campaign was started in the fall of 2017.

The attack hit a national data center in an unnamed country in Central Asia, according to Kaspersky, the hackers were preparing a watering hole attack. The hackers attempted to inject malicious JavaScript code into the government websites connected to the data center.

“In March 2018 we detected an ongoing campaign targeting a national data center in the Central Asia that we believe has been active since autumn 2017. The choice of target made this campaign especially significant – it meant the attackers gained access to a wide range of government resources at one fell swoop.” reads the blog post published by Kaspersky.

“We believe this access was abused, for example, by inserting malicious scripts in the country’s official websites in order to conduct watering hole attacks.”

The attackers compromised the government website to deliver either the Browser Exploitation Framework (BeEF) or the ScanBox reconnaissance framework. At the time of the report, experts were not able to determine the way the hackers breached the government website.

“The websites were compromised to redirect visitors to instances of both ScanBox and BEeF. These redirects were implemented by adding two malicious scripts obfuscated by a tool similar to the Dean Edwards packer.” continues the post.

One of the hypotheses formulated by Kaspersky sees the hackers using weaponized Office documents to trigger the CVE-2017-11882 vulnerability, the same issue exploited by other APT groups like the  Cobalt hacking group.

The campaign monitored by Kaspersky leveraged a RAT tracked by Kaspersky as HyperBro, the code was associated with other Chinese-speaking threat actors.

The timestamps for these modules are from December 2017 until January 2018.

Emissary Panda data center hack

The main command and control (C&C) server used in this campaign is bbs.sonypsps[.]com which is hosted on an IP address associated with a Ukrainian ISP. The IP address belongs to a MikroTik router running a firmware version 6.34.4 released in March 2016, the device with SMBv1 on board may have been hacked by the Emissary Panda hackers.

“The TTPs for this campaign are quite common for Chinese-speaking actors,” concludes Kaspersky.

“The most unusual and interesting point here is the target. A national data center is a valuable source of data that can also be abused to compromise official websites. Another interesting point is the Mikrotik router, which we believe was hacked specifically for the campaign. The reasons for this are not very clear: typically, Chinese-speaking actors don’t bother disguising their campaigns. Maybe these are the first steps in a new stealthier approach.”

Further details, including the IoCs are reported in the analysis published by Kaspersky.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Panda Emissary, cyber espionage)

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