Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

12/19/2019
03:30 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

China-Based Cyber Espionage Group Targeting Orgs in 10 Countries

Dozens of organizations across multiple sectors have become victims of APT20 in the past two years.

An advanced persistent threat (APT) actor likely operating out of China has, for the past two years at least, been quietly targeting organizations in the United States and around the globe in a sweeping espionage campaign.

Among its dozens of victims are companies in the aviation, construction, energy, finance, healthcare, transportation industries, as well as others, across 10 countries, including the US, UK, Brazil, China, France, and Germany.

The attacker, identified as "APT20" in a report this week from NCC Group's Fox-IT, is likely geopolitically motivated and state-backed, the security vendor said.

"Fox-IT assesses with high confidence that the actor is a Chinese group and that they are likely working to support the interests of the Chinese government and are tasked with obtaining information for espionage purposes," the vendor said in its report.

Fox-IT's analysis of APT20's tactics shows that in several incidents, the attackers gained initial access to a victim network via a vulnerable Web server, typically running versions of JBoss. Often the servers through which APT20 broke into had already been compromised in an unconnected previous attack and had Web shells placed on them. APT20 used those Web shells for initial lateral movement and reconnaissance.

The group's other approaches for gaining initial access include the use of phishing and spear-phishing emails, supply chain compromise, and via infected removable media devices.

Like many other threat actors, APT20's strategy after gaining an initial foothold has been to try and harvest and use access credentials belonging to privileged accounts, such as those belonging to enterprise and domain administrators. The group has then brazenly used the admin accounts to access the victim network through its own corporate VPN.

Fox-IT says its investigation shows APT20 uses an assortment of custom tools and legitimate services in carrying out its attacks. Among the custom tools it uses is one for collecting information on installed software, open connections, and running processes; a file upload and command execution webshell; and a custom backdoor written in C#.

The many legitimate tools and services that APT20 leverages in its attacks include PowerShell, command-line interface, external remote services, and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Windows Admin Shares. APT20 uses legitimate tools in every aspect of the attack chain, from initial access and execution, to privilege escalation and lateral movement, to persistence, defense evasion, collection, exfiltration, and command-and-control. Attack data shows members of APT20 are likely based in China and follow a regular eight- to 10-hour workday routine, with no work during the weekends.

Economic Espionage Activity
APT20 is one of numerous threat actors believed to be engaged in economic espionage activity in support of Chinese government initiatives, such as "Made in China 2025" and "Belt and Road." Even though President Xi Jinping of China signed an accord with the US in 2015 not to engage in cyber-enabled economic espionage, little has changed on the ground, according to security experts.

For example, China's first domestically built commercial airliner, C919, which is due for release sometime in the next few years, is thought to be based on designs taken from other aerospace companies. In a report earlier this year, security vendor CrowdStrike described an APT group called Turbine Panda targeting aerospace companies since at least 2010 in support of the commercial plane venture.

Last year, ProtectWise released a report describing how it had linked several threat groups — operating under an umbrella group called "Winnti" — to China's intelligence apparatus.

FireEye, which maintains a roster of APT groups, lists several with suspected links to China. The list includes APT12 targeting government and defense companies; APT10 focused on construction, telecom, engineering firms, and other sectors; APT41 targeting healthcare, high-tech, and others; and APT40 focused on engineering and defense.

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "5 Pieces of GDPR Advice for Teams Without Privacy Compliance Staff."

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 5/28/2020
Stay-at-Home Orders Coincide With Massive DNS Surge
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  5/27/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: Can you smell me now?
Current Issue
How Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs Work (and Why Some Don't)
This Tech Digest takes a look at the vital role cybersecurity incident response (IR) plays in managing cyber-risk within organizations. Download the Tech Digest today to find out how well-planned IR programs can detect intrusions, contain breaches, and help an organization restore normal operations.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-11844
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
There is an Incorrect Authorization vulnerability in Micro Focus Service Management Automation (SMA) product affecting version 2018.05 to 2020.02. The vulnerability could be exploited to provide unauthorized access to the Container Deployment Foundation.
CVE-2020-6937
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
A Denial of Service vulnerability in MuleSoft Mule CE/EE 3.8.x, 3.9.x, and 4.x released before April 7, 2020, could allow remote attackers to submit data which can lead to resource exhaustion.
CVE-2020-7648
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
All versions of snyk-broker before 4.72.2 are vulnerable to Arbitrary File Read. It allows arbitrary file reads for users who have access to Snyk's internal network by appending the URL with a fragment identifier and a whitelisted path e.g. `#package.json`
CVE-2020-7650
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
All versions of snyk-broker after 4.72.0 including and before 4.73.1 are vulnerable to Arbitrary File Read. It allows arbitrary file reads to users with access to Snyk's internal network of any files ending in the following extensions: yaml, yml or json.
CVE-2020-7654
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-29
All versions of snyk-broker before 4.73.1 are vulnerable to Information Exposure. It logs private keys if logging level is set to DEBUG.