'Clandestine Fox' hackers win over energy employee in strategy change

The group, known to use zero-day exploits, mounted a social engineering campaign against an energy company employee

A hard-to-tracking hacking group, known to use zero-day attacks, changed tack to use social media in an attempt to compromise an employee of an energy company, according to new research from FireEye.

FireEye declined to say who conducted the attack other than it was the same group that ran a campaign it dubbed "Operation Clandestine Fox," which it described in April and early May. It also did not identify where the employee works.

FireEye's subsidiary, Mandiant, is notable for outing in February 2013 a Shanghai-based Chinese Army signals intelligence branch, Unit 61398, which it said in a report was responsible for running wide-ranging hacking campaigns against U.S. industry. It called the group APT1, short for Advanced Persistent Threat.

Last month, U.S. prosecutors filed an unprecedented criminal indictment against five members of the unit, alleging they stole intellectual property and, in some cases, gave it to Chinese companies. China fumed and denied the accusations.

FireEye's latest research describes how an attacker, which it nicknamed "Emily," courted the energy employee's colleagues on a social network. She peppered them with probing questions, such as the name of the IT manager for the company and what type of software they ran, according to Mike Scott, a senior threat analyst at FireEye.

Eventually, Emily contacted the employee via the social network and the two corresponded for three weeks. She eventually sent him her resume in a ".rar" archive to his personal email address.

The archive file had a PDF of her resume but also a malicious version of TTCalc, which is an open source calculator. When executed, the malicious TTCalc installed a benign version of itself but also slipped a backdoor onto the computer.

The attack is different from other campaigns by the group in that this required tricking the victim. In the past, the group has relied on a number of browser-based zero-day exploits, or attacks that take advantage of a software vulnerability, which often require little user interaction aside from navigating to a malicious web page.

FireEye linked this attack to previous ones because the attackers utilized a domain name it had used in the past as part of its command-and-control structure. That was perhaps a glaring error on the part of the attackers, as FireEye had noted in a previous blog post that the group typically does "not reuse command and control infrastructure."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags malwareFireEyeExploits / vulnerabilities

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?