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

3/26/2020
08:40 AM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

China-Based Threat Group Launches Widespread Malicious Campaign

The motives behind the attacks remain unclear, but likely triggers include the ongoing trade war between the US and China and the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

APT41, a prolific advanced persistent threat group believed to be working on behalf of the Chinese government, has sharply ramped up its activities in recent months after a relative lull.

Researchers from FireEye who have been tracking the activity said APT41 attacked as many as 75 of its customers between January 20 and March 11 alone.

The targeted organizations are scattered across 20 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Japan, and India. Organizations from nearly 20 sectors have been impacted, including those in the government, defense, banking, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and telecommunication sectors.

Though only a handful of the attacks resulted in an actual security compromise, FireEye described APT41's activity as one of the broadest malicious campaigns ever by a Chinese threat actor in recent years.

Chris Glyer, chief security architect at FireEye, says the reason for APT41's sudden burst of activity is unclear. Based on FireEye's current visibility, the attacks appear to be targeted, but it is hard to ascribe a specific motive or intent behind APT41's behavior, he says.

But likely triggers include the ongoing trade war between the US and China and the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. It is possible that these events are driving China on a quest for intelligence on a variety of topics, including trade, travel, communications, manufacturing, research, and international relations.

"The most likely explanation for the broad targeting set is to enable both current as well as future potential collection requirements that would enable APT41 to complete their mission objectives quickly," Glyer says.

In several of the attacks, the threat actors attempted to exploit a previously known remote code execution flaw (CVE-2019-19781) in Citrix Application Delivery Controller (ADC) and Citrix Gateway devices. The flaw was first disclosed last December, and exploits for it became available this January. 

The flaw evoked considerable concern among security researchers because it impacted a Citrix technology that is widely deployed in enterprise settings and also because of how trivial it was to exploit. The concerns were exacerbated by the fact that exploits for the flaw became available before Citrix had a patch for it. Though Citrix and others, including the DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), urged organizations to patch or otherwise protect against the flaw as soon as possible, many systems are believed to still be unpatched and vulnerable to the bug.

Dangerous Vulnerabilities
CVE-2019-19781 enables an attacker to execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable device, Glyer says. One of the worst-case scenarios would be an attacker compromising an ADC device, accessing credentials stored in the device, and then using the credentials and network access to move laterally and escalate privileges within a victim's internal network, he says.

According to Glyer, APT41 appears to have managed to successfully exploit the Citrix flaw at just one of the several organizations it targeted in its newest campaign.

In recent weeks FireEye researchers observed the China-based threat actor attempting to exploit a zero-day vulnerability [CVE-2020-10189] in Zoho ManageEngine. That flaw was disclosed earlier this month, and a proof-of-concept for exploiting it is already publicly available. FireEye counted attacks attempting to exploit the Zoho bug at more than a dozen of its customers. At least five of them were subsequently compromised and had malware installed on their systems.

In all of the exploitation attempts that FireEye observed, APT41 actors only leveraged publicly available tools, such as Cobalt Strike and Meterpreter, FireEye said in its report this week. In 2020, APT41 has emerged as one of the most active threat groups, Glyer says.

"APT41 is one of the most prolific and capable threat actors that we track," he says. "Organizations should take the information provided in the blog and evaluate whether they might have been targeted by APT41."

FireEye has previously described APT41 as a dual cybercrime and espionage group. Its espionage operations on behalf of the government in China have previously focused on healthcare, high tech, and the telecommunications sectors. APT41's modus operandi has typically been to break in, establish, and maintain strategic access on victim networks. The group's financially motivated cybercrime activities, on the other hand, have been purely for personal gain, FireEye said.

 Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's featured story: "What Should I Do If Someone Is Impersonating My Company in a Phishing Campaign?"

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
When It Comes To Security Tools, More Isn't More
Lamont Orange, Chief Information Security Officer at Netskope,  1/11/2021
US Capitol Attack a Wake-up Call for the Integration of Physical & IT Security
Seth Rosenblatt, Contributing Writer,  1/11/2021
IoT Vendor Ubiquiti Suffers Data Breach
Dark Reading Staff 1/11/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
2020: The Year in Security
Download this Tech Digest for a look at the biggest security stories that - so far - have shaped a very strange and stressful year.
Flash Poll
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
COVID-19 has created a new IT paradigm in the enterprise -- and a new level of cybersecurity risk. This report offers a look at how enterprises are assessing and managing cyber-risk under the new normal.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-25533
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-15
An issue was discovered in Malwarebytes before 4.0 on macOS. A malicious application was able to perform a privileged action within the Malwarebytes launch daemon. The privileged service improperly validated XPC connections by relying on the PID instead of the audit token. An attacker can construct ...
CVE-2021-3162
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-15
Docker Desktop Community before 2.5.0.0 on macOS mishandles certificate checking, leading to local privilege escalation.
CVE-2021-21242
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-15
OneDev is an all-in-one devops platform. In OneDev before version 4.0.3, there is a critical vulnerability which can lead to pre-auth remote code execution. AttachmentUploadServlet deserializes untrusted data from the `Attachment-Support` header. This Servlet does not enforce any authentication or a...
CVE-2021-21245
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-15
OneDev is an all-in-one devops platform. In OneDev before version 4.0.3, AttachmentUploadServlet also saves user controlled data (`request.getInputStream()`) to a user specified location (`request.getHeader("File-Name")`). This issue may lead to arbitrary file upload which can be used to u...
CVE-2021-21246
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-15
OneDev is an all-in-one devops platform. In OneDev before version 4.0.3, the REST UserResource endpoint performs a security check to make sure that only administrators can list user details. However for the `/users/` endpoint there are no security checks enforced so it is possible to retrieve ar...