Endpoint

8/13/2014
05:20 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Cyberspies Target Chinese Ethnic Group

Academic researchers study phishing emails targeting the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which represents the Uyghur ethnic group residing in China and in exile.

New academic research underscores the new reality that small organizations, too, are the target of cyber espionage.

Researchers from Northeastern University, the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, and the National University of Singapore studied phishing emails used in a four-year targeted attack against the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a nongovernmental organization that represents the Uyghur ethnic group residing in China and in exile.

"I find it interesting that small organizations are being targeted, and no zero-days are being used," says Engin Kirda, a professort at Northeastern and co-founder and chief architect of Lastline Labs. "There have been a lot of reports of mostly high-profile corporations being targeted and how sophisticated" those attacks are. "But from an academic point of view, we wanted to look at other types of attacks as well, with a small organization being targeted. Now it shows us this was not sophisticated."

Next week at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Diego, Kirda will present the researchers' paper, "A Look at Targeted Attacks Through the Lense of an NGO." He says he and his fellow researchers -- Stevens Le Blond, Adina Uritesc, and C´edric Gilbert of the Max Planck Institute and Zheng Leong Chua and Prateek Saxena of the National University of Singapore -- can't confirm the attackers came out of China or are backed by the Chinese government. "But there's a good chance there's some Chinese entity behind it. If I were to speculate, I'd say yes, the Chinese might be [associated] with these attacks."

The researchers studied 1,000 emails and their attachments or embedded URLs sent to the WUC and other organizations, including journalists at AFP, CNN International, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and Reporters Without Borders; politicians in the Netherlands and China; universities around the world; and NGOs such as Save Tibet-International Campaign for Tibet and Amnesty International.

"Many [exploited] vulnerabilities had been around quite a while and are still being used, which suggests most people are doing a bad job patching their systems," Kirda says. It also shows you don't need a zero-day bug to compromise a small organization, and the attackers don't want to waste those types of exploits.

For example, the researchers found that the language and topics of the emails were crafted to appear friendly and in line with the users they were impersonating. Most of the emails sent to the WUC were written in Uyghur and came with malicious document attachments. More than one-fourth of the malware families found in the attachments had some ties to groups that have targeted Tibetan NGOs and political and industrial organizations, the researchers found.

Kirda says the WUC could have been used as a steppingstone to a larger target. "It would have been great to have access to some of the compromised systems and see what data was stolen," but the researchers were not privy to that information.

The researchers also found the same command and control infrastructure used by the DTL group against NGOs in November 2013, as well as by attacks against Tibetan and Hong Kong targets.

The full paper will be available here once the conference begins.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
More Than Half of Users Reuse Passwords
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  5/24/2018
Is Threat Intelligence Garbage?
Chris McDaniels, Chief Information Security Officer of Mosaic451,  5/23/2018
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Flash Poll
[Strategic Security Report] How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Problem
[Strategic Security Report] How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Problem
Enterprises are spending more of their IT budgets on cybersecurity technology. How do your organization's security plans and strategies compare to what others are doing? Here's an in-depth look.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2018-11505
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-26
The Werewolf Online application 0.8.8 for Android allows attackers to discover the Firebase token by reading logcat output.
CVE-2018-6409
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-26
An issue was discovered in Appnitro MachForm before 4.2.3. The module in charge of serving stored files gets the path from the database. Modifying the name of the file to serve on the corresponding ap_form table leads to a path traversal vulnerability via the download.php q parameter.
CVE-2018-6410
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-26
An issue was discovered in Appnitro MachForm before 4.2.3. There is a download.php SQL injection via the q parameter.
CVE-2018-6411
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-26
An issue was discovered in Appnitro MachForm before 4.2.3. When the form is set to filter a blacklist, it automatically adds dangerous extensions to the filters. If the filter is set to a whitelist, the dangerous extensions can be bypassed through ap_form_elements SQL Injection.
CVE-2018-11500
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-26
An issue was discovered in PublicCMS V4.0.20180210. There is a CSRF vulnerability in "admin/sysUser/save.do?callbackType=closeCurrent&navTabId=sysUser/list" that can add an admin account.