How Chinese cyber army steals intellectual property from your company

Cybersecurity specialists from tech firm Cybereason reported the uncovering of a Chinese cybercriminal operation which main goal was intellectual property theft. Identified as “Operation Cuckoobees”, this campaign was attributed to a group of advanced persistent threats (APT) sponsored by China and known as Winnti, APT 41, Barium or Blackfly.

This group is known for using various malware strains and distributing them in complex attack chains. According to the Cybereason report, it all starts with the exploitation of multiple vulnerabilities in an enterprise resource planning tool. Hackers then search for a file identified as gthread-3.6.dll in the VMware Tools folder; this allows you to inject other payloads such as webshells and credential dump tools.

Threat actors also strive to hide their malicious activity; among the techniques used by APT41, the use of the Windows Server Common Log File System (CLFS) stands out, since it uses an undocumented file format that can be accessed through APIs but cannot be analyzed, allowing hackers to hide their malicious payloads, bypassing detection during years: “The attackers stole intellectual property such as confidential documents, blueprints, diagrams, formulas and proprietary data related to the manufacturing industry.”

Experts add that the attacks targeted technology and manufacturing companies, especially in East Asia, Western Europe and North America, all considered industrial hotspots globally.   

Industrial espionage is a practice commonly associated with hacking groups sponsored by China and its all-powerful Communist Party. In the past, the United States and other nation states have accused the Asian giant of facilitating cyberattack campaigns for the theft of confidential records, either by financing their activities or by simply turning a blind eye to these groups and operations.

To learn more about information security risks, malware variants, vulnerabilities and information technologies, feel free to access the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS) websites.