Researchers at FireEye uncovered a new threat actor dubbed APT30 that run a decade-long cyber espionage campaign backed by the Chinese Government.

Security experts at FireEye have uncovered a new long-running cyber espionage campaign, the researchers speculate that the campaign is active since at least 2005.

The threat actor behind the campaign was dubbed APT30 by the researchers, its operation involved seasoned high-skill software developers.

The APT30 group targeted various industries demonstrating a predilection for organizations involved in governmental intelligence activities. The APT30 targeted organizations located in Asian countries, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, Singapore, Philippines and Indonesia.

“APT30 predominantly targets entities that may satisfy governmental intelligence collection requirements. The vast majority of APT30’s victims are in Southeast Asia. Much of their social engineering efforts suggest the group is particularly interested in regional political, military, and economic issues, disputed territories, and media organizations and journalists who report on topics pertaining to China and the government’s legitimacy” states the report published by FireEye.

The researchers at FireEye explained that the APT30 uses three strains of malware specifically designed to infect and exfiltrate data from system inside air-gapped networks.

“While APT30 is certainly not the only group to build functionality to infect air-gapped networks into their operations, they appear to have made this a consideration at the very beginning of their development efforts in 2005, significantly earlier than many other advanced groups we track,”  continues the report.

The APT30 has many other tools in its arsenal that includes backdoors, malware with the ability to compromise air-gapped networks, downloaders and many others. Some of these tools were used only by the APT30 operators.

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Differently from other APT, hackers of the APT30 haven’t changed their attack tools, tactics, and procedures (TTPs) over the years.

” The group (or the developers supporting them) systematically labels and keeps track of their malware versioning. The malware uses mutexes and events to ensure only a single copy is running at any given time, and the malware version information is embedded within the binary. Malware C2 communications include a version check that allows the malware to update itself to the latest copy, providing a continuous update management capability.” states the report.

Who is behind the APT30?

By the analysis of the technical capabilities of the attackers, its TTPs, and the nature of the targets, the experts speculate that operations are backed by the Chinese government.

 “Advanced threat group like APT 30 illustrate that state-sponsored cyber espionage affects a variety of governments and corporations across the world,” explained Dan McWhorter, VP of threat intelligence at FireEye. “Given the consistency and success of APT 30 in Southeast Asia and India, the threat intelligence on APT 30 we are sharing will empower the region’s governments and businesses to quickly begin to detect, prevent, analyze and respond to this established threat.”

Pierluigi Paganini