A new advanced persistent threat (APT) actor, reportedly based in China and dubbed Aoqin Dragon, has been linked to several hacking attacks across Australia and Southeast Asia against education, government and telecom entities since 2013.
Sentinel Labs, threat researchers, published a blog post on Thursday outlining the events.
Joey Chen, threat intelligence researcher at SentinelOne, said: “we assess that the threat actor’s primary focus is espionage and relates to targets in Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vietnam”
Aoquin Dragon relies on document lures to infect users.
Outlining three interesting points that they discovered, Chen wrote: “First, most decoy content is themed around targets who are interested in APAC political affairs. Second, the actors made use of lure documents themed to pornographic topics to entice the targets. Third, in many cases, the documents are not specific to one country but rather the entirety of Southeast Asia.”
The malware uses a document exploit, tricking the user into opening a malicious Word document to install a backdoor. Conversely, some users are lured into double-clicking a fake antivirus program that infects the victim’s host with malware.
USB shortcut techniques are also often used by the malware to install itself onto external devices and infect additional targets. After entering the system, the malware has been seen to operate through two main backdoors.
Sentinel Labs said that they discovered several artefacts linking the activity to a Chinese-speaking APT group.
Chen added, “the targeting of Aoqin Dragon closely aligns with the Chinese government’s political interests.”
“Considering this long-term effort and continuous targeted attacks for the past few years, we assess the threat actor’s motives are espionage-oriented.”
The ending of the post provides a warning to global cybersecurity in general: “We have observed the Aoqin Dragon group evolve TTPs several times in order to stay under the radar. We fully expect that Aoqin Dragon will continue conducting espionage operations. In addition, we assess it is likely they will also continue to advance their tradecraft, finding new methods of evading detection and stay longer in their target network.”