Security vendors claim progress against Chinese group that hacked Google

A collaborative effort has resulted in better defenses against the "Operation Aurora" hackers

A group of security companies say a collaborative effort has helped counter several hacking tools used by a China-based group most known for provoking strong condemnation from Google four years ago.

The companies, which include Cisco, FireEye, F-Secure, iSIGHT Partners, Microsoft, Tenable, ThreatConnect, ThreatTrack Security, Volexity, Novetta and Symantec, said their efforts have led to a better level of protection in their products against the hacking tools used by the group. How long the effort will stymie the hackers remains to be seen.

"We're not naïve," said Novetta CEO Peter LaMontagne in a phone interview Tuesday. "Our view is that the threat actors that are out there are absolutely focused on staying ahead of our defensive efforts."

Novetta, which spearheaded the effort, said a comprehensive technical report on the action, called "Operation SMN," will be released on Oct. 28., although some details were released by Symantec in a blog post Tuesday.

The hackers, referred to as "Hidden Lynx" by Symantec, are believed to have been behind "Operation Aurora," a famous cyberespionage campaign revealed in early 2010 that compromised as many as 20 companies.

Google said the attack stole some of its intellectual property and also appeared to target the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Google's comments fueled a growing diplomatic row between the U.S. and China over cybersecurity issues. Other U.S. companies followed Google in more directly blaming China for sophisticated long-term infiltration campaigns. China has strongly denied sanctioning such attacks and said it is actually a victim of U.S. intrusions.

Computer security companies have a spotty record of cooperation, as many are in direct competition with one another for customers. But in January, Microsoft called for the companies to work more closely together to combat certain types of malware families successfully used by attackers year after year.

The project was dubbed the "Coordinated Malware Eradication" program, and its first action took aim at "Hikit," which is a backdoor the Hidden Lynx hackers try to plant on computers. Backdoors allow for probing a compromised computer or for uploading other malware.

Hikit has been used against governments and technology, research and defense companies in countries including the U.S., Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, Symantec wrote.

The security companies shared information on the group, which has lead to "the rollout of more effective protection against Hikit and a number of other associated pieces of malware, including one previously unknown malware tool," Symantec wrote.

The Hikit malware was used in a 2012 attack against Bit9, a Waltham, Massachusetts, company that sells a security platform designed in part to stop hackers from installing their own malicious software.

Once inside Bit9, the hackers accessed a virtual machine used to digitally sign code for Bit9, a security measure that verifies the company's code is legitimate. The hackers then used Bit9's digital certificate to sign 32 of their own malicious files and scripts, including Hikit.

That kind of attack is particularly dangerous. With Bit9's digital signature, Hikit would look legitimate to other security software and not be detected as malware. Further investigation showed HiKit was used in so-called watering hole attacks, where legitimate websites are tampered with to deliver malware to visitors' computers.

The Chinese group added more backdoors - Fexel and Gresim - to their arsenal in 2013, which were used in conjunction with Hikit. Gresim had remained unknown before the security companies began collaborating, Symantec wrote.

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

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags ThreatTrack SecurityiSight PartnersFireEyeTenableVolexityThreatConnectmalwareCisco SystemsNovettasymantecMicrosoftsecurity

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

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?