Attacks/Breaches
6/11/2014
10:35 AM
50%
50%

Experts: CrowdStrike China Hacker Report Raises Red Flags For Business

The second report on China's hacking teams supports Department of Justice's accusations, offers insight on Chinese attackers.

The release of another report on state-sponsored hacking activities in China earlier this week should remove all doubt: The intellectual property of Western enterprises is being targeted for data theft.

That's the consensus of most security experts in the wake of Monday night's release of a new CrowdStrike report detailing the activities of an organized group of Chinese cyber attackers affiliated with the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The report, which describes the attackers' activities down to the military unit, buildings, and even individuals involved, offers a sobering insight into the way China's state-sponsored groups target Western enterprises -- in this case, satellite and aerospace communications.

CrowdStrike published the report partly as a red flag to US businesses, and partly as a response to the Chinese government's continued denials of Department of Justice allegations of state-sponsored corporate espionage by China three weeks ago.

"We see the massive amount of intellectual property that is being sucked out by the truckload, and we are tired of the continual denials," says CrowdStrike CEO and co-founder George Kurtz in a blog written for Dark Reading. "Most executives and boards of directors have no idea just what damage is being done to their corporations."

"This is a smoking keyboard," says Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike. "We've got a guy in China registering [malicious] domains on behalf of the third General Staff Department of the 12th Bureau of the PLA. It doesn't get tied up with a neat little bow any better than that."

The report also outlines some of the tactics used by the attackers, including exploits of Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Office that are two years old or more. "Some of what we see is not particularly sophisticated, but it's working," Meyers says. "And this group is very active."

Industry experts said the CrowdStrike report is a cautionary tale that should get enterprises thinking about defenses not only against financially motivated cyber criminals, but against state-sponsored hacking of intellectual property.

"Cyber attacks are on the rise -- from nation-sponsored espionage to cyber criminals stealing data from major retailers and universities," says Eric Chiu, president and co-founder of security firm HyTrust. "Based on this, no company is immune, and security needs to be a top priority, rather than an afterthought or insurance plan. Also, attackers are getting more sophisticated -- in many cases using APTs and social engineering to steal credentials and gain access to corporate networks." 

"The recent discovery by CrowdStrike constitutes another link in the chain of evidence of the growing determination, sophistication, and craftsmanship of mission-driven hackers," says Eyal Firstenberg, vice president of cyber research at security company Light Cyber. "While traditional security measures have been optimized to stop run-of-the-mill viruses and bots, the nation-state mission-driven actors follow a different dynamic. It should therefore come as no surprise that a crafted PDF attachment tailor-made for a specific victim can bypass that victim's mail attachment scanner and other specific security measures.

"These sophisticated attacks highlight the need for organizations to deepen their security posture beyond the traditional intrusion prevention and focus on detecting and reacting to breaches in ways that don't assume a specific, predictable point of intrusion."

"These attacks show how effective the combination of social engineering and exploits can be," says Jerome Segura, senior security researcher at Malwarebytes. "A considerable amount of effort is put into identifying the target by combing through any data found on social networking sites, press releases, etc. Then, carefully crafted exploit documents with a theme that would appeal to the victim are sent as spear phishing emails.

"Those files, which are not malware executables, are able to defeat spam and antivirus protection and find their way to the target's inbox," Segura tells us. "While most people have been trained to be careful with zip attachments that may contain malware, very few would think twice before opening a PDF document. All it takes is a vulnerable version of Adobe Reader or Office, and the booby-trapped file will start downloading and installing malware on the system -- at which point it's already too late."

Meyers hopes the report will be a wakeup call for businesses. "We have a group that takes its instructions from the military collecting data from Western enterprises in a $180 billion market in order to give a competitive advantage to Chinese industry," he says. "Make no mistake -- they are stealing intellectual property from Western businesses."

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Christian Bryant
50%
50%
Christian Bryant,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 11:51:10 AM
Documented Orders
Having been on the wrong end of accusations as a young man where evidence appeared to point to me for something I wasn't involved in, I'm a fan of seeing a proper document trail when reaching conclusions as weighty as these - playing Devil's advocate, I'd love to see Anonymous or WikiLeaks produce some emails or other official Chinese Gov't documentation that documents direct orders for the activities documented in these reports.

That said, what is our response?  I've mentioned before that the US white hatters need to start thinking like black hatters, skipping gray and jumping straight to the dark side.  The ability of our cyber crime specialists to do this is there, just as the military has "black ops" and uses them to great efficiency - so we imagine – we need to do the same in our fight against cyber crime; the field is still fresh, and there is room for creativity.  The better, more aggressive, more offensive and thorough our cyber crime teams become, the harder a time teams like those in China will have getting a foothold in our cyber territory.

 
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.