Asia And Middle East A Hotbed Of New Threat Actors In Q1, 2018

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During the first three months of the year, Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered a wave of new APT activity based mainly in Asia – more than thirty per cent of Q1 reports were dedicated to threat operations in this region. A peak of activity was also observed in the Middle East with a number of new techniques used by actors. These and other trends are covered in Kaspersky Lab’s latest quarterly threat intelligence summary.

In the first quarter of 2018, Kaspersky Lab researchers continued to detect cyber activities by advanced persistent threat (APT) groups speaking languages including Russian, Chinese, English and Korean, among others. And while some well-known actors didn’t show any noteworthy activity, a rising number of APT operations and new threat actors were detected in the Asian region. This rise is explained in part by the Olympic Destroyer malware attack on the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.

Highlights in Q1, 2018 include:

  • Continuous rise of Chinese-speaking activity,including the ShaggyPanther cluster of activity targeting government entities mainly in Taiwan and Malaysia, and CardinalLizard, which in 2018 increased its interest in Malaysia alongside an existing focus on the Philippines, Russia, and Mongolia.
  • Recorded APT activity in South Asia. Pakistan military entities have been under attack from the newly discovered Sidewinder group.
  • IronHusky APT apparently stops targeting Russian military actors and transfers all its efforts to Mongolia.At the end of January 2018, this Chinese-speaking actor launched an attack campaign on Mongolian government organizations before their meeting with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • Korean peninsula remains in focus.The Kimsuky APT, targeting South Korean think tanks and political activities, has renewed its arsenal with a completely new framework designed for cyberespionage and used in a spear-phishing campaign. Furthermore, a subset of the infamous Lazarus group, Bluenoroff, has shifted to new targets including cryptocurrency companies and Point of Sales (PoS).

Kaspersky Lab also detected a peak of threat activity in the Middle East. For example, the StrongPity APT launched a number of new Man-in-the-Middle (MiTM) attacks on internet service provider (ISP) networks. Another highly skilled cybercriminal group, the Desert Falcons, returned to target Android devices with malware previously used in 2014.

Also, in Q1, Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered several groups routinely targeting routers and networking hardware in their campaigns, an approach adopted years ago by actors such as Regin and CloudAtlas. According to experts, routers will continue to be a target for attackers as a way of getting a foothold in a victim’s infrastructure.

From January to March, the most common and accessible malware tools were used by a number of new threat groups, which varied in sophistication. During this time, no significant activity was observed from some well-known actors. This activity points us to the possibility that these threat groups are regrouping and reconsidering their strategies for attacks to come,” said David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

The newly published Q1 APT Trends report summarizes the findings of Kaspersky Lab’s subscriber-only threat intelligence reports. During the first quarter of 2018, Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team created 27 private reports for subscribers, with Indicators of Compromise (IOC) data and YARA rules to assist in forensics and malware-hunting.

About Kaspersky Lab
Kaspersky LabKaspersky Lab is one of the world’s fastest-growing cybersecurity companies and the largest that is privately-owned. The company is ranked among the world’s top four vendors of security solutions for endpoint users (IDC, 2014). Since 1997 Kaspersky Lab has been an innovator in cybersecurity and provides effective digital security solutions and threat intelligence for large enterprises, SMBs and consumers. Kaspersky Lab is an international company, operating in almost 200 countries and territories across the globe, providing protection for over 400 million users worldwide.

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