APT10 Group Targets Multiple Sectors, But Seems to Really Love MSSPs

January 31, 2019 | Tawnya Lancaster
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apt10 doesn't discriminate

Threat Actors That Don’t Discriminate 

When it comes to threat actors and the malware variants they use, let’s talk dating — or rather, the way people date — because one could argue there are marked similarities between the two. You see, there are criminal groups who have a “type,” i.e. using malware that targets specific industries or even organizations — say, financial services (ever-popular and oh-so debonair) or perhaps critical infrastructure (spicy and daring!), or even healthcare for those who prefer staid and demure. Yet other groups are the free lovin’ types who go after multiple sectors using many different malware variants and approaches to accomplish their goal — no discriminating with this bunch.

Let’s look at one such example, APT10 / Cloud Hopper, which is likely the group behind a long running, sophisticated campaign that uses multiple malware variants to target many different sectors in many different countries. You can check out some of the pulses relating to APT10 / Cloud Hopper on the Open Threat Exchange (OTX).

The U.S. National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) reports the campaign started in May 2016, and NCCIC last updated its alert in December 2018 — so it’s not going away yet.

The group known as APT10 / Cloud Hopper has hit quite a few victims over the last few years in many different sectors, such as: information technology, energy, healthcare and public health, communications, and critical manufacturing. However, their “date of choice” seems to be MSSPs due to the fact a that credential compromises within those networks could potentially be leveraged to access customer environments. From OTX pulse “Operation Cloud Hopper”:

The espionage campaign has targeted managed IT service providers (MSSPs), allowing the APT10 group unprecedented potential access to the intellectual property and sensitive data of those MSSPs and their clients globally. This indirect approach of reaching many through only a few targets demonstrates a new level of maturity in cyber espionage – so it’s more important than ever to have a comprehensive view of all the threats your organization might be exposed to, either directly or through your supply chain.

As any clever serial dater would do, APT10 / Cloud Hopper doesn’t use just one approach. The NCCIC reports they have deployed multiple malware families and variants, some of which are currently not detected by anti-virus signatures — for example, PLUGX / SOGU and REDLEAVES. And although the observed malware is based on existing malware code, APT10 / Cloud Hopper modifies it to improve effectiveness and avoid detection by existing signatures.

How Can APT10 Group Impact You?

If these free lovin’ bad guys decide to come after you, they’re likely looking for your data (perhaps to steal intellectual property). At a high level, they’re accomplishing this by leveraging stolen administrative credentials (local and domain) and certificates to place sophisticated malware implants on critical systems (such as PlugX and Redleaves). Depending on the defensive mitigations in place, they then gain full access to networks and data in a way that appears legitimate to existing your monitoring tools. Voila! They’ve gone from first date to a home run!

Wired Magazine reported the following on APT10 in a December 2018 article:

In the case of the MSP intrusions, that malware appears to have mostly made up of customized variants of PlugX, RedLeaves—which have previously been linked to Chinese actors—and QuasarRAT, an open source remote access trojan. The malware posed as legitimate on a victim’s computer to avoid antivirus detection, and communicated with any of the 1,300 unique domains APT10 registered for the campaign.

What Can You Do About APT10 Group?

For sophisticated, long-standing, and non-discriminating campaigns such as this, the NCCIC suggests there is no single or set of defensive techniques or programs that will completely avert all malicious activities — because new variants are constantly being created. Instead, security pros should be using a defense-in-depth approach (multiple layers of security) to provide a complex barrier to entry and increase the likelihood of detection. Among the key recommendations are the following (which can be easily managed via the AlienVault Unified Security Management (USM) platform).

  • Conduct regular vulnerability scans of the internal and external networks and hosted content to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities.
  • Implement an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) to: conduct continuous monitoring; send alerts to a SIEM tool; monitor internal activity.

AlienVault Labs has identified more than 660 Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) associated with this campaign, which are shared in OTX.  You can use USM Anywhere or OSSIM to directly check for these IOCs throughout your attack surface. The Labs team has also released IDS signatures and correlation rule updates to the USM Anywhere Platform so customers can identify suspicious activity that could be related to this campaign.

For further investigation, visit the Open Threat Exchange (OTX) to see what research members of the community have shared: https://otx.alienvault.com/pulse/59096495b8eeba365246b24d/

Also, check out US-CERT Alert (TA17-117a), Last revised December 20, 2018.

Tawnya Lancaster

About the Author: Tawnya Lancaster

Tawnya joined AlienVault as a Senior Product Marketing Manager in 2018. Previously, she served as the Director of Global Communications for Skybox Security, where she specialized in cybersecurity thought leadership for the vulnerability and threat management and firewall and security policy management space. She graduated from Oregon State University with a B.A. in English and has received certification in Stanford’s Professional Publishing course, an intensive program for established publishing and communication professionals.

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TAGS: mssp, apt10

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