Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | New data shows China has “taken the gloves off” in hacking attacks on US

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |


The new normal: More sophisticated attackers, more destructive attacks.

Hexbyte - Tech News - Ars Technica | Well, that whole thing clearly worked out well, didn't it?
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Well, that whole thing clearly worked out well, didn’t it?

Remember the good old days, when the US and China were supposedly working out new norms for the cybers, and China was going to stop all that hacking of US companies to steal intellectual property? It turns out the Chinese were just upping their hacking game, improving their operational security and penetration skills—learning from the methods of their Russian counterparts.

A recent example of that “island hopping” tactic is the “Cloud Hopper” hacking campaign, active since at least May of 2016. In October, DHS issued a new alert on the campaign, warning of a surge in activity by the campaign over the past few months. Cloud Hopper has been attributed to the threat group known as APT 10, aka Stone Panda—a hacking group that has been tied to the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin Bureau.

Based on data from incident response companies gathered by the security software vendor Carbon Black, China is now the leading source of cyber-attacks. Of 113 investigations conducted by Carbon Black’s incident response partners in the third quarter of 2018, nearly half—47 in total—came from China or Russia.

“What was notable was that we saw a resurgence of Chinese attacks, where they actually surpassed Russian activity,” said Carbon Black’s chief cybersecurity officer, Tom Kellermann. “And I think that’s in direct line with the increasing tension with the South China Sea coupled with the trade war. Essentially, the Chinese have taken the gloves off.”

The data backing this analysis, part of a report released this week by Carbon Black, came from 37 incident-response firms that partnered with the company. It’s the second quarterly report compiled from incident-response data and an attempt by the intrusion-response community to understand more about the behavior of attackers—and how they manage to spend so much time within networks before they are detected.

“The Verizon data-breach report, which we all appreciate as being probably the best report out on data breaches, always failed to explain why [dwell time] was over 130 days,” Kellermann told Ars. That Verizon report “talked about the vector and some of the weaknesses in security but never described why that dwell time was so expansive. This report is specifically trying to drive out how are they getting in, how are they staying in, how are they moving laterally, how are they changing, and are they becoming more punitive.”

And, in fact, attackers on the whole do appear to be turning more “punitive”—engaging in more destructive behavior either as part of a deliberate sabotage campaign or to counter the efforts by victims of intrusions to respond to them. But as far as the Chinese attackers go, it’s clear that they have also significantly upped their game, improving their stealth and tactics in a way that has allowed them to dig deeper into targets and stay longer than before.

“They’re doing a much better job of operational security for their campaigns and doing a tremendous amount of ‘island hopping’—targeting the major service providers and corporations’ brands in order to island hop into their constituencies,” Kellermann explained.

This type of stealth is a significant departure from Chinese state-sponsored hacking operations in the past. “The joke used to be that when the Chinese would come after you, they would throw the kitchen sink at you, and inevitably they would get into your house, and it would sound like a bunch of drunks in your kitchen at night,” Kellermann said. “The Russians, if they targeted you— you would just wake up feeling funny in the morning.”

But now, the Chinese groups are

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