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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Mustang Panda Hackers Targets Philippines Authorities Amid South China Sea Tensions

Nov 21, 2023NewsroomCyber Assault / Cyber Espionage

Mustang Panda Hackers

The China-linked Mustang Panda actor has been linked to a cyber assault focusing on a Philippines authorities entity amid rising tensions between the 2 nations over the disputed South China Sea.

Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 attributed the adversarial collective to 3 campaigns in August 2023, primarily singling out organizations within the South Pacific.

“The campaigns leveraged reliable software program together with Strong PDF Creator and SmadavProtect (an Indonesian-based antivirus answer) to sideload malicious recordsdata,” the corporate stated.

“Menace authors additionally creatively configured the malware to impersonate reliable Microsoft site visitors for command-and-control (C2) connections.”


Mustang Panda, additionally tracked underneath the names Bronze President, Camaro Dragon, Earth Preta, RedDelta, and Stately Taurus, is assessed to be a Chinese language superior persistent menace (APT) energetic since a minimum of 2012, orchestrating cyber espionage campaigns focusing on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and authorities our bodies throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

In late September 2023, Unit 42 additionally implicated the menace actor to assaults geared toward an unnamed Southeast Asian authorities to distribute a variant of a backdoor known as TONESHELL.

The newest campaigns leverage spear-phishing emails to ship a malicious ZIP archive file that incorporates a rogue dynamic-link library (DLL) that is launched utilizing a method known as DLL side-loading. The DLL subsequently establishes contact with a distant server.

It is assessed that the Philippines authorities entity was probably compromised over a five-day interval between August 10 and 15, 2023.

The usage of SmadavProtect is a recognized tactic adopted by Mustang Panda in current months, having deployed malware expressly designed to bypass the safety answer.


“Stately Taurus continues to show its capability to conduct persistent cyberespionage operations as one of the vital energetic Chinese language APTs,” the researchers stated.

“These operations goal quite a lot of entities globally that align with geopolitical subjects of curiosity to the Chinese language authorities.”

The disclosure comes as a South Korean APT actor named Higaisa has been uncovered focusing on Chinese language customers via phishing web sites mimicking well-known software program purposes akin to OpenVPN.

“As soon as executed, the installer drops and runs Rust-based malware on the system, subsequently triggering a shellcode,” Cyble stated late final month. “The shellcode performs anti-debugging and decryption operations. Afterward, it establishes encrypted command-and-control (C&C) communication with a distant Menace Actor (TA).”

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