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Chinese Hackers Target Logistics & Shipping Firms With Poisoned Inventory Scanners

'ZombieZero' still actively pushing rigged handheld scanning devices, reviving concerns of doing business with Chinese tech companies.

Malware-poisoned handheld inventory scanners from China are stealing information from logistics and shipping firms as well as manufacturing companies around the globe in an attack campaign dubbed "ZombieZero" by the researchers who discovered it.

A Chinese manufacturer that sells the popular devices for scanning items shipped or transported apparently has been implanting the malware in its products, as well as via the Windows XP embedded version of the software on the scanner maker's support website. Researchers from TrapX Security, which today provided details of the attacks, say scanners with another variant of the same malware were also sold to a large robotics firm and seven other companies, which they did not name.

Logistics firms use the scanners to track shipments as they are loaded and unloaded from ships, trucks, and airplanes.

"The attackers were exfiltrating all [stolen information] to a database," says Carl Wright, general manager of TrapX. "They are very focused on manifests -- what's in it, what's the value of it."

Once the scanner is connected to the victim's wireless network, it attacks the corporate network via the server message block (SMB) protocol, and the scanned information, including origin, destination, contents, value, and shipper and recipient information, is sent to a botnet that terminates at the Lanxiang Vocational School purportedly located in the Shangdong province in China. The school has been linked to the infamous Operation Aurora cyber espionage campaign that hit Google, Adobe, Intel, and many other major US firms more than four years ago, and is located one block from the inventory scanner manufacturer in question, according to TrapX.

The botnet then sends the scanner a second piece of malware that targets the victim's corporate financial, customer, shipping, and manifest information. "That was able to take control of the ERP [enterprise resource planning] system," he says. This would, among other things, allow the attacker to make a package "disappear" or "reappear," he says. The attack targets a specific, major ERP system, says Wright, who declined to reveal the name of the product due to an investigation into the attacks.

He says it's difficult to discern if the attackers are after the logistics firms themselves or their customers.

"The exfiltration of all financial data as well as CRM data was achieved providing the attacker complete situational awareness and visibility into the shipping and logistics targets worldwide operations," TrapX said in a report it published today on the attacks.

The poisoned inventory scanners echo previous concerns raised by the US government about doing business with Chinese technology companies. Huawei, Lenovo, and ZTE were among those firms called out by US officials in the past amid concerns their products could be backdoored with cyberspying malware.

"We notified the manufacturer of the said hardware and software. They denied culpability," Wright says. "And two days ago, we saw the same APT code had morphed and hit a couple of manufacturing companies looking for other things. The same codebase."

Meanwhile in a separate development, a GAO report (PDF) warned of the vulnerability of US shipping ports to cyberattack, according to a report today in the The Wall Street Journal. The GAO says the Department of Homeland Security must do more to shore up security in maritime and other ports.

"It has been recognized for some time that the administrative and controls systems networks at shipping ports are not only vulnerable, but high-priority targets for malicious activity. Particularly concerning is the threat terrorist organizations present to these networks and the physical and information networks that are present," says Mike Brown, vice president and general manager of the global public sector at RSA. "Over the past couple of years, DHS has begun to award funding [grants] to port authorities who prioritize cyber security efforts in their grant submissions."

Meantime, TrapX says one ZombieZero victim company running 48 inventory scanners from the unnamed Chinese manufacturer found that 16 of the devices were infected with the malware. A firewall sits between the inventory scanner wireless network and the corporate network at one of its sites, and the firewall blocked the initial attack attempt. But then came a second attack via the RADMIN protocol, or port 4899, that bypassed the firewall. Nine corporate servers were infected with the cyberspying malware. Its second site was defenseless -- no firewall -- so the attack went through SMB and infiltrated the corporate network and ERP servers, according to TrapX.

"All scanner attacks targeted very specific corporate servers. The attack looked for and compromised servers that had the word 'finance' in their Host name," according to the report.

TrapX today also released a free tool for forensics investigators called Threat Inspector. "We've cobbled together some top open source tools and put in a front-end wizard that will allow any engineer to get forensics reports off infected machines," TrapX's Wright says.

The full report on ZombieZero is available here.

 

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