APT Tied to China Went Unnoticed for a Decade

  • By Patrick Ryan
  • Jun 22, 2022

Digital security specialists have identified an APT linked to China that was unknown for nearly a decade. Though the APT is diminutive, it is quite potent. Let’s take a deeper dive into the APT to get a sense of the type of damage it inflicts and how it went unnoticed for a full decade.

What did the APT Do?

The APT, referred to as Aoqin Dragon, was identified by digital security specialists with SentinelLabs. The APT runs online attack campaigns against Australian and Southeast Asian telecom companies, education providers, and governments.  

What is the Threat Composed Of?

Aoqin Dragon consists of Chinese-speaking hackers. Digital security specialists believe this small group of hackers is likely the entirety of the APT, also referred to as UNC94.

How Does the Attack Work?

The Aoqin Dragon attack is somewhat unique in that it employs porn-themed harmful documents as a means of baiting targets. The bait encourages the target to download the documents. The threat obtains access to the target by way of document exploits as well as phony removable devices.

Why did Aoqin Dragon Remain Under the Radar for so Long?

Digital security specialists believe Aoqin Dragon went unidentified for a lengthy period of time as it continued to evolve. The threat originally exploited dated weaknesses on targets that lacked updated patching.

Aoqin Dragon evolved to generate executable files complete with desktop icons that made it seem as though they were a form of antivirus protection or folders for the Windows operating system. However, the programs were actually harmful droppers that placed backdoors in position and formed connections with the aggressor’s C2 command-and-control servers.

A phony removable device has been used in the form of an infection vector dating back nearly half a decade. This strategy ensures that when a target clicks what looks like a device folder that can be removed ultimately spurs a chain reaction that downloads the C2 connection and backdoor to the computer. The malware then creates a copy of itself to devices that can be removed yet connected to the victimized machine at the time of the attack. The aim is to move past the host and into the expanded network.

The Aoqin Dragon hackers also deserve some credit for using other creative strategies to remain off the radar. The group implemented a DNS tunnel strategy that manipulates the web domain name system to move information beyond firewalls. For example, a Mongall backdoor leverage conceals data transmitted between C2 servers and hosts with encryption. The APT gradually worked the faux removable disc technique to upgrade malware and stop it from being identified and later eliminated.

Is There a Strong Nation-State Tie?

There is some discussion in cyber security circles that a nation-state is behind the digital attack. 
Some believe the targets that the hackers zeroed in on are similar to those that the Chinese government would covertly target.  

However, as of the time of this publication, the identities of the small group of hackers that comprise the APT are unknown. The takeaway from this tidbit of news from the world of cyber security is that every computer owner should implement the latest digital security safeguards as soon as possible to prevent becoming yet another cyber security statistic.
 

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