Security Experts:

Fake Mandiant Chinese Hacking Report Used in Attack Campaign

Attackers are taking advantage of public interest in security firm Mandiant's recent report on state-sponsored hacking by China by using a fake copy of the report as bait for victims.

The Mandiant report tied a spate of attacks against U.S. corporations to a division of China's People's Liberation Army known as Unit 61398 that reputedly heads up the country's cyber-espionage operations.

Mandiant ReportNow, attackers are hoping interest in the report's findings will be enough to get users to open a malicious PDF file. Multiple attacks have been detected by security researchers. The first exploits a vulnerability for Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader that was just recently patched (CVE-2013-0641).

According to Symantec, the attachment is made to look the report and uses the name of the company in the filename. However, as in many targeted attacks, the email is sent from a free email account, and the content of the email – which is written in Japanese – uses poor grammar.

Though the attack detected by Symantec failed to drop any malware, researchers at Seculert said they analyzed an attack exploiting the same vulnerability that dropped malware that communicates with a command-and-control server using the dynamic DNS domain name expires.ddn.dynssl.com. The C&C server itself is hosted in Korea. The malware also communicates with several legitimate Japanese websites – most likely to divert security products into thinking it is legitimate software, Seculert speculated.

The second attack, researcher Brandon Dixon highlighted an attack that appears to be targeting Chinese journalists. This attack targets CVE-2011-2462, an older vulnerability in Adobe Reader. The payload of the attack has been used in the past, Dixon explained.

"Once executed on the system, a new process under the name "AdobeArm.tmp" was identified running and the original Mandiant APT1 report is shown," he blogged. "This payload was collected back on November 6th, 2012 and was completely unchanged showing a reuse in payloads even after several months."

"The newly spawned process waited several minutes before contacting itsec[.]eicp[.]net:443, a domain that was used in many previous attacks against human rights activists," he continued. "It should also be noted that this domain showed up with malware on both Windows and Mac OS X systems. At the time of running, the command and control was resolving to 114[.]248[.]101[.]105."

According to Seculert, the malware involved in the attack communicates with a C&C using the dynamic DNS domain itsec.eicp.net.

"This same domain name was used by a watering hole attack, targeting Dalai Lama activists back in December 2012," the firm noted. "Back then there were two different malware variants communicating with the same C2 server. One variant was created for users using Windows operating system, while the other variant was created specifically for OSX victims."