Naikon is one of the Asian largest APT gangs which has been active for several years, its operations targeted entities in various industries including governments and the military. The hacking crew targeted diplomats, law enforcement, and aviation authorities in many Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Naikon is the group which was involved in a cyber espionage campaign shortly after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared. Recently the group engaged a hacking dispute with another APT dubbed Hellsing.
The list of victims is long and includes the Office of the President, Office of the Cabinet Secretary, and National Intelligence Coordination Agency, Federal police, department of justice, and the military offices.
The hackers behind the Naikon group appear to be Chinese-speaking, they have set up control infrastructure with sophisticated spying tools that allowed them to access employees’ corporate email, personal and corporate email content hosted on external services and other targets’ resources.
Below the key findings of a report on the Naikon APT published by the Kaspersky Lab:
In a first time, the experts linked the Naikon APT to a group which was identified by FireEye as APT30, but experts at Kaspersky Lab explained that there is no evidence that the threat actors are the same:
“The Naikon APT aligns with the actor our colleagues at FireEye recently revealed to be APT30, but we haven’t discovered any exact matches. It is hardly surprising that there is an element of overlap, considering both actors have for years mined victims in the South China Sea area, apparently in search of geo-political intelligence.” states the report published by Kaspersky.
According to the experts at Kaspersky, the Naikon APT has used a very sophisticated infrastructure for data exfiltration in any country. All the communications between bot agents and C&C were protected.
In the Naikon architecture, a C&C server can be specialized XSControl software running on the host machine. The application is entirely written in .NET with the use of DevExpress, and can be used to manage a botnet of infected clients.
“In some cases, a proxy is used to tunnel victim traffic to the XSControl server. A Naikon proxy server is a dedicated server that accepts incoming connections from victim computers and redirects them to the operator’s C&C. An individual Naikon proxy server can be set up in any target country with traffic tunnelling from victim systems to the related C&C servers.” states the report.
The attack vector is a classic spear phishing that was used in the attempt to compromise the targets, the attackers used malicious email attachments that exploit a buffer overflow vulnerability in the ListView/TreeView Active X controls in Microsoft Common Controls library. The flaw affects Office 2003 SP3, 2007 SP2 and SP3, and 2010. When victims open the attachment, a spyware is installed on the target while it is displayed a decoy document to the victim in order to avoid raise suspicious.
It is interesting to note that the Naikon APT has a designated human operator for each country, the figure is in charge of to tailor the attack for a specific region.
“Having dedicated operators focused on their own particular set of targets also makes things easy for the Naikon espionage group,” Baumgartner said.
Enjoy the report which is full of details.
(Security Affairs – Naikon APT, state-sponsored hacking)