The June 2018 adversary spotlight is on MUSTANG PANDA, a China-based adversary that has demonstrated an ability to rapidly assimilate new tools and tactics into its operations, as evidenced by its use of exploit code for CVE-2017-0199 within days of its public disclosure.
In April 2017, CrowdStrike® Falcon Intelligence™ observed a previously unattributed actor group with a Chinese nexus targeting a U.S.-based think tank. Further analysis revealed a wider campaign with unique tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). This adversary targets non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in general, but uses Mongolian language decoys and themes, suggesting this actor has a specific focus on gathering intelligence on Mongolia. These campaigns involve the use of shared malware like Poison Ivy or PlugX.
Recently, Falcon Intelligence observed new activity from MUSTANG PANDA, using a unique infection chain to target likely Mongolia-based victims. This newly observed activity uses a series of redirections and fileless, malicious implementations of legitimate tools to gain access to the targeted systems. Additionally, MUSTANG PANDA actors reused previously-observed legitimate domains to host files.
Mustang Panda’s Methods
Mustang Panda’s unique infection chain often takes the following steps:
- The infection chain used in this attack begins with a weaponized link to a Google Drive folder, obfuscated using the goo.gl link shortening service.
- When contacted, the Google Drive link retrieves a zip file, which contains a .lnk file obfuscated as a .pdf file using the double extension trick.
- This file requires the target to attempt to open the .lnk file, which redirects the user to a Windows Scripting Component (.wsc) file, hosted on an adversary-controlled microblogging page. MUSTANG PANDA has previously used the observed microblogging site to host malicious PowerShell scripts and Microsoft Office documents in targeted attacks on Mongolia-focused NGOs.
- The .lnk file uses an embedded VBScript component to retrieve a decoy PDF file and a PowerShell script from the adversary-controlled web page.
- The PowerShell script creates a Cobalt Strike stager payload. This PowerShell script also retrieves an XOR-encoded Cobalt Strike beacon payload from an adversary-controlled domain.
- The Cobalt Strike Beacon implant beacons to the command-and-control (C2) IP address, which is used to remotely control the implant.
There are no known community or industry names associated with this actor.
Other Known China-based Adversaries
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Want the insights on the latest adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs)? Download the CrowdStrike 2019 Global Threat Report: Adversary Tradecraft and The Importance of Speed