China group attacks India with Word exploit, then uses Microsoft's WMI

The hacking group seeks geopolitical information

A hacking group suspected of operating from China has had success stealing information from mostly Indian targets, often pertaining to border disputes and trade issues, according to FireEye.

The gang specializes in sending targeted phishing emails to victims in the hope of gaining wider access to their networks, a practice known as spear phishing, said Bryce Boland, CTO for Asia-Pacific at the security firm.

FireEye hasn’t give a name to the group, but has watched it since 2011, Boland said.

The company has gathered data on the group based on attacks attempted against its customers. Analysis of Internet infrastructure used by the group, including command-and-control servers, have given insight into the scope of its operations, Boland said.

“In some cases, we’ve found not just our customers but many other organizations that are being targeted as well and actively being breached,” he said.

Some of the latest spear-phishing emails have an attached Microsoft Word document, Boland said. The document contains an exploit for a now-patched vulnerability in Word dating from 2012.

The vulnerability is “really ancient,” Boland said. Still, it’s effective if organizations haven’t patched.

“For the most part, most governments across Asia have relatively less mature cybersecurity defensive capabilities,” he said. “They’re less effective today in patch management.”

Once a user is compromised, this group's attackers are using a script, nicknamed WATERMAIN, that leverages Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to explore computers and the network.

WMI is a powerful tool used by administrators and can be used for searching across machines on a network, distributing software and executing commands.

There’s often not a lot of logging and monitoring of WMI activity within organizations, which makes using it advantageous for the attackers, Boland said.

The group has targeted more than 100 entities of which around 70 are in India. But the group has also sought to compromise targets in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Boland said FireEye decided to release the information to show that organizations in Asia are also subject to these kinds of specific attacks.

Typically when FireEye releases information, the cyberattackers will change their tactics in order to be less obvious. Boland said he expects this group will recognize itself, since not many others use WMI as part of their attacks.

"I think they'll know they got caught," he said.

Having to change tactics comes with a price, however, and raises the attackers' operating costs, which is good.

"We want to force them to invest," he said.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

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

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

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

Learn more >

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

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

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?