Chinese hacker group among first to target networks isolated from Internet

APT 30 has been operating since 2005 without significantly changing its attack methods, FireEye said

An otherwise unremarkable hacking group likely aligned with China appears to be one of the first to have targeted so-called air-gapped networks that are not directly connected to the Internet, according to FireEye.

The computer security firm released a 69-page technical report on Sunday on the group, which it calls APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) 30, which targeted organizations in southeast Asia and India.

FireEye picked up on it after some of the malware used by the group was found to have infected defense-related clients in the U.S., said Jen Weedon, manager of strategic analysis with FireEye.

APT 30 has operated since at least 2005. It has targeted people through spear phishing, or sending emails containing malicious attachments or harmful links.

The group has consistently updated its malware, but the tools it uses are generally not that sophisticated, and it has used some of the same command-and-control infrastructure for years on end.

"It seems to be they've been successful in being good enough," Weedon said Sunday.

The organizations targeted may have had lax security postures, which made them easy for APT 30 to infiltrate without needing to resort to more advanced or sophisticated attack methods, she said.

The countries primarily targeted were India, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Other countries likely to have been targeted are Nepal, Bhutan, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Japan, FireEye said.

The group has a particular interest in the relationship between China and India, including border issues, FireEye's report said. APT 30's focus on those particular subjects make it likely that it is sponsored by China.

What's most interesting about APT 30 is that it developed tools that are designed to move from systems connected to the Internet to those that aren't connected. Governments use such "air-gapped" networks to reduce the chance an external attack will be successful.

The group designed malware components with worm-like capabilities that can infect removable drives such as USB sticks and hard drives. Those devices can transfer the malware if connected to a device on an air-gapped network.

FireEye said it has seen many groups develop this capability, but APT 30 appears to have "made this a consideration at the very beginning of their development efforts in 2005, significantly earlier than many other advanced groups we track."

Over the years, FireEye has written many reports on groups it has linked to China. This group, however, doesn't appear to be linked to any of the other ones and operated in relative isolation.

APT has its own development resources, and doesn't share attack infrastructure with other groups, Weedon said.

"This group seems pretty insular," she added.

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

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityFireEyeExploits / vulnerabilitiesmalware

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

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

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?