China-linked cyber-espionage group Mustang Panda is targeting telecommunications companies in Asia, Europe, and the United States for espionage purposes, according to a warning from security researchers at McAfee.
Also referred to as RedDelta and TA416, the threat actor has been previously associated with the targeting of entities in connection with the Vatican – Chinese Communist Party diplomatic relations, along with some entities in Myanmar.
The new malware attacks, McAfee says, employ the same tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) previously associated with Mustang Panda. The initial vector of infection hasn’t been identified, but the researchers believe that victims were being lured to a fake website crafted to mimic the legitimate career site for Chinese tech giant Huawei.
The first stage of the attack leverages a fake Flash application and a phishing page mimicking the original website, while the second stage is a .Net payload executed to further compromise the machine through downloading and managing backdoors. A Cobalt Strike beacon payload is delivered as a third stage.
Referred collectively as Operation Diànxùn, the new attacks were targeted at telecommunication companies in based in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States. The adversary, McAfee says, shows strong interest in German, Vietnamese, and Indian telecommunication companies.
“Combined with the use of the fake Huawei site, we believe with a high level of confidence that this campaign was targeting the telecommunication sector. We believe with a moderate level of confidence that the motivation behind this specific campaign has to do with the ban of Chinese technology in the global 5G roll-out,” McAfee says.
The campaign, the researchers note, is believed to have been aimed at the theft of sensitive or secret information related to 5G technology. McAfee also notes that it has no evidence that Huawei was knowingly involved in these attacks.