Chinese Hackers Spying On US Government Agencies

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has published a security advisory warning of a wave of attacks carried out by hacking groups affiliated with China's Ministry of State Security (MSS). Recently these hackers, who are apparently working for a Chinese intelligence agency, have spied on parts of the US government and commercial organisations by exploiting common IT vulnerabilities, the FBI and CISA has said.

The attackers have been using phishing emails with malicious links to infiltrate victim organisations and they have been doing it by including malicious software in those messages. 

Hackers exploit software flaws in commercial technologies and open-source tools, including services with known fixes says the FBI and CISA. ‘CISA has consistently observed Chinese MSS-affiliated cyber threat actors using publicly available information sources and common, well-known tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to target US Government agencies. CISA has observed these, and other threat actors with varying degrees of skill, routinely using open-source information to plan and execute cyber operations,’ says the CISA.

Recently hackers working for the group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 41 (ATP41) compromised a major private provider of social care services in the UK and in the process disrupted its systems, a cyber security expert with knowledge of China’s actions says. 

Now the US government has filed charges against Chinese nationals with known connections to the notorious hacking group known as APT41. Five Chinese nationals will face charges relating to hacking more than 100 international companies on behalf of the Chinese government. 

These are state-sponsored actors working on behalf of the Chinese government and its security services have tried to “profit from the crisis” and steal information that could be beneficial to the country, a senior Western security source says.

Suspected Chinese hackers frequently conduct economic espionage against government and private sector entities in the US in order to steal intellectual property and bolster China’s technology and defense sectors. In some instances, the Chinese hackers have tried to use and manipulate a Microsoft tool, known as Remote Desktop Protocol, in the federal government, CISA and the FBI.

CISA warned U.S. government agencies and private sector alike to patch these and other known vulnerabilities.

Despite being publicly criticised for alleged hacking, by governments, law enforcement and private security firms, China has consistently denied the claims made against it. “China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being ‘on call’ to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including COVID-19 research,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

It is now estimated that range for China's hacking personnel is between 50,000 to 100,000 individuals. CISA officials recommend that security teams in private companies and private sector and government agencies read its report, take notice of the common tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by Chinese state actors, patch devices and deploy detection rules accordingly.

US-CERT:        Dept. of Justice:     Cyberwire:       Foreign Policy:     Wired:    CyberScoop:       ZDNet

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