Chinese APT Hackers Used Log4Shell Exploit To Target Academic Institution

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Chinese state-sponsored group Aquatic Panda recently attacked an important, unnamed educational institution by exploiting the major flaw in the Apache Log4Shell logging library. According to the local sources, the intrusion adversary, Aquatic Panda, conducted multiple post-exploitation operations. The attack ended up being unsuccessful.

The primary goal of the attackers is still unclear, and we don’t know what they were trying to achieve by infiltrating the system of this educational institution.

According to the institution's representatives, the group did manage to conduct reconnaissance and credential harvesting in their system. Aquatic Panda also attempted to stop third-party endpoint detection response services and wanted to retrieve next-stage payloads and harvest credentials.

Aquatic Panda is said to have become active in the mid-2020. The state-backed group’s general goals include intelligence collection through methods used in this particular attack. They also specialize in industrial espionage and typically target companies that deal with the government sector, telecommunications, and technology in general. Attacks that exploit such vulnerabilities have become more common, which should alert all institutions to up their security game and be on high alert for potential attacks similar to one orchestrated by the Aquatic Panda. 

According to the representatives from the educational institution that became the target of the Chinese state-backed attack group, the institution was able to react promptly. Soon after getting the information about the attack, the institution quickly implemented its incident response protocol and managed to detect and then patch up the vulnerability. 

But not all organizations or institutions manage to get away unscathed by similar attacks. While we know that the hackers couldn't compromise the institution’s system, we’ve seen other cases where attacks like these ended up taking down entire corporations. This is why it is so important to have strong preventative measures in place. It is much easier to invest a bit more in protection than to try and save the situation once the attackers have located the vulnerabilities in your systems. 

Here are some specific steps you can take to ensure your security online and avoid getting entangled with hacker groups like Aquatic Panda.

Use a VPN When Browsing Online

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) reroute your network connection through a secure tunnel and connect it to a remote server that cannot be traced back to you. When we browse the web without being connected to the VPN, our IP address and other personal information are extremely easy for a stranger to access. Neglecting the privacy of our personal details is a very risky approach and could lead to serious threats to our privacy, finances, and even our well-being. Protect your identity online and use a VPN (https://nordvpn.com/download/) to browse the web safely and anonymously. 

Install Antivirus

Antivirus is a great online security investment to make - an effective preventative tool that alerts the user as soon as it detects any suspicious activity or malware in the system. These days there are plenty of options for those who want to purchase a good antivirus. They vary in price as well as what they can do for your online privacy. Simple research online will direct you towards the antivirus that is right for you. 

There are many benefits to doing things online and moving towards a more digitized society. Attacks like those orchestrated by Aquatic Panda are sadly a part of this development. Lucky for us, many tools can help us prevent similar attacks from getting out of hand.

It’s always wise to invest more in prevention than to start searching for a quick fix after the attack. The latter approach will probably cost you more in the end anyway. Use the tools mentioned here to protect yourself online.

Staying cautious will help keep your privacy without giving up all the conveniences of modern technology.

Contributed by Ulrike Niemann: Cyber security enthusiast, freelance copywriter, content marketing manager.

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