Attacks/Breaches
2/10/2015
04:45 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Chinese Hacking Group Codoso Team Uses Forbes.com As Watering Hole

ASLR vulnerability patched today used in tandem with previously patched Flash vuln to carry out drive-by-downloads against political and economic targets

Another day, another cyberespionage campaign attributed to a Chinese hacking group. Today's newly identified hacking push is a watering hole attack against Forbes and other targets last November that's been attributed by iSIGHT Partners and Invincea to likely be the handiwork of a long-running group they call Codoso Team, but which has also been named as Sunshop Group. The campaign was made possible by a zero-day attack that strung together a now-patched Adobe vulnerability with a bypass vulnerability in Microsoft's ASLR technology for Internet Explorer that the company patched today.

Research evidence only showed the attack to occur over a couple of days, but in addition to some highly targeted web properties it infected the Thought of the Day widget on Forbes.com with the intent to perform drive-by-download attacks via the Flash vulnerability. In spite of the mainstream appeal via Forbes, which is ranked by Alexa as the 61st most popular website on the Internet, the targets of this attack were fairly narrow. Attackers seemed to be going after defense sector firms, Chinese dissident groups and other political target, as well as certain financial targets and other commercial targets in pharmaceutical and energy sectors that could benefit the Chinese economy.

"So what’s really interesting about this is it separates a lot of cyber espionage activity from say criminal activity.  These guys don’t typically just put drive-bys anywhere," says John Hultquist, senior manager of cyber espionage threat intelligence for iSIGHT.  "They don’t want anybody’s information.  What they want is information associated with the requirements that they have.  Usually those requirements are gathering intelligence on intellectual property, gathering strategic intelligence, gathering information on say dissidents or security issues that they’re working."

First publicly identified as the Sunshop Group by FireEye in 2013, Codoso Team has been on security research radars since 2010 as it perpetrated numerous targeted attacks using zero-day vulnerabilities.

"You may remember in 2010 the prize was actually awarded to a noted Chinese dissident," says Hultquist.  "Shortly after that these operators went in, popped the website, and used that website to serve up exploits to visitors, again a very targeted concept.  Since then they don’t only operate this way or through this manner, they’re also carrying out targeted spearphishing attacks." 

It also shares attack techniques with Deep Panda, which like Codoso, leans heavily on the use of the Derusbi malware to carry out attacks. While they may be sharing resources, iSIGHT believes them to be two distinct gangs.

According to Anup Ghosh, CEO at Invincea, his team first noticed activity around the Forbes.com site through a defense firm customer. Typically used to tracking broad malvertising campaigns using similar media sites, his team was surprised to see the attack only going after specific customer types, primarily in the defense sector. He also says the attack was unique through the use of chained zero-day exploits. Not only was it attacking a Flash zero-day, but it was also leveraging a zero-day in ASLR to bypass that mitigation technique.

"Effectively in modern operating systems and browsers there is a layer of technology that Microsoft has added to the mix that really makes it much more difficult for a particular exploit to figure out what address base it’s operating in.  So it makes it more difficult or nearly impossible to execute a buffer overflow," explains Patrick McBride, vice president at iSIGHT. "In this case the team was able to exploit that ASLR, get outside of that box, if you will, and then directly exploit the flash vulnerability. "

 

Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
aws0513
50%
50%
aws0513,
User Rank: Ninja
2/11/2015 | 9:46:46 AM
Some questions regarding the Forbes.com incident.
When were the Forbes.com operators/owners notified of the compromise?
If not, why?
If so, did they take any actions?
If no actions were taken, why?
If actions were taken, what were they?

The reason I am asking these questions is that I could not find any indication in either of the referenced technical write-ups that the operators of the Forbes.com website were notified of the problem their widget was causing.  Nor were there any indication of any actions taken on the Forbes.com website when/if they were notified.

To me, this indicates that they knew about the problem in November, but let it hang out there to continue to be a risk factor until the Adobe and Microsoft patches were released. 
If this is indeed the case, IMHO someone has the cart before the horse on remediation actions here.

Maybe there is more to this story from the Forbes.com side of the issue.  I would hope they had an opportunity to mitigate the risk before waiting on vendor patches.
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Security Operations and IT Operations: Finding the Path to Collaboration
A wide gulf has emerged between SOC and NOC teams that's keeping both of them from assuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of IT systems. Here's how experts think it should be bridged.
Flash Poll
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
The transition from DevOps to SecDevOps is combining with the move toward cloud computing to create new challenges - and new opportunities - for the information security team. Download this report, to learn about the new best practices for secure application development.
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
In past years, security researchers have discovered ways to hack cars, medical devices, automated teller machines, and many other targets. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts researcher Samy Kamkar and Levi Gundert, vice president of threat intelligence at Recorded Future, to discuss some of 2016's most unusual and creative hacks by white hats, and what these new vulnerabilities might mean for the coming year.