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

6/24/2013
09:48 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

South Korean Universities Targeted By Chinese-Speaking Hackers

'PinkStats' malware has been used for hacking nation-state targets for four years

A newly discovered attack tool used by multiple groups of Chinese-speaking attackers has infected more than 1,000 machines in South Korea -- mainly universities and other academic institutions.

The so-called PinkStats malware family has been in use over the past four years, targeting various nation-states and organizations around the globe, according to Aviv Raff, CTO at Seculert, which studied the malware and posted its findings today.

"This is the first proof that there are Chinese-speaking attackers targeting [South Korea] entities," says Raff, who stopped short at confirming the attackers were from China. Even so, he says it's likely that they are Chinese: "These type of custom-made tools are usually created by the people speaking the language used in the tool, [such as where] Mahdi used Farsi strings," he says.

There's no evidence, either, to confirm that PinkStats was also used in the attacks earlier this year on South Korean banks, media networks, and an ISP that wiped hard drives and attached drives of infected machines. They also crippled targeted organizations for hours, and the machines weren't able to reboot. There was speculation of a North Korea or China connection to the attacks.

[Researchers confirm data-destroying malware that hit South Korean media and banks doesn't completely erase data. See Data Can Be Recovered From South Korea Data-Wiping Attacks. ]

PinkStats is a Trojan downloader that can install additional malware components. It camouflages itself by posing as a Web statistics or counter service in its communications to the command-and-control server and in the attacker's administrative panel login window.

In the South Korean attack, PinkStats also downloaded a typical Chinese hacking tool called zxarps that acts as a worm to spread in the victim's local network, via address resolution protocol (ARP) poisoning. The malicious iFrame it injects includes an ActiveX file digitally signed by Thwate. Seculert says the signature was valid as of May 8 and uses "Microsoft Corporation" as the product name and "Liaocheng YuanEr Technology CO., ltd.," as the publisher name -- a phony South Korean company.

PinkStats also installs a DDoS malware tool that goes by "Win8.exe" and poses as South Korean antivirus company AhnLab's V3 Light Framework software. "Up until now, the adversary did not seem to send any specific instructions to the installed DDoS malware. However, with the recent incidents of DDoS attacks against South Korean infrastructure, it is reasonable to assume that this state could change anytime soon," Seculert said in its blog post.

Seculert's Raff says the attackers were trying to amass as much computing power as possible from the South Korean universities. They deployed an additional worm tool that spreads the PinkStats malware within the local university network," he says, probably in order to use the machines for DDoS attacks.

Raff says his firm discovered the PinkStats malware while analyzing one of its customer's logs. That analysis led to Seculert finding evidence of the South Korean attacks. What makes PinkStats unique is that it's a downloader posing as a legitimate Web statistics service. "So even if someone will try to investigate the URL of the malware communication and [get] to the login page, he will see a page saying that is a login for 'statistics administration,'" he says.

Other attacks using PinkStats have downloaded information-stealing Trojans as well, he says.

"It really depends on the group using this tool, and the intent of their current operation and phase," Raff says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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
Sodinokibi Ransomware: Where Attackers' Money Goes
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  10/15/2019
Data Privacy Protections for the Most Vulnerable -- Children
Dimitri Sirota, Founder & CEO of BigID,  10/17/2019
State of SMB Insecurity by the Numbers
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  10/17/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
2019 Online Malware and Threats
2019 Online Malware and Threats
As cyberattacks become more frequent and more sophisticated, enterprise security teams are under unprecedented pressure to respond. Is your organization ready?
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-16966
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
An issue was discovered in Contactmanager 13.x before 13.0.45.3, 14.x before 14.0.5.12, and 15.x before 15.0.8.21 for FreePBX 14.0.10.3. In the Contactmanager class (html\admin\modules\contactmanager\Contactmanager.class.php), an unsanitized group variable coming from the URL is reflected in HTML on...
CVE-2019-9491
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
Trend Micro Anti-Threat Toolkit (ATTK) versions 1.62.0.1218 and below have a vulnerability that may allow an attacker to place malicious files in the same directory, potentially leading to arbitrary remote code execution (RCE) when executed.
CVE-2019-16964
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
app/call_centers/cmd.php in the Call Center Queue Module in FusionPBX up to 4.5.7 suffers from a command injection vulnerability due to a lack of input validation, which allows authenticated attackers (with at least the permission call_center_queue_add or call_center_queue_edit) to execute any comma...
CVE-2019-16965
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
resources/cmd.php in FusionPBX up to 4.5.7 suffers from a command injection vulnerability due to a lack of input validation, which allows authenticated administrative attackers to execute any commands on the host as www-data.
CVE-2019-18203
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
On the RICOH MP 501 printer, HTML Injection and Stored XSS vulnerabilities have been discovered in the area of adding addresses via the entryNameIn and KeyDisplay parameter to /web/entry/en/address/adrsSetUserWizard.cgi.