Chinese hackers cause problems for the USA

9 Feb 2024

The U.S. government on Wednesday said the Chinese state-sponsored hacking group known as Volt Typhoon had been embedded into some critical infrastructure networks in the country for at least five years.
Targets of the threat actor include communications, energy, transportation, and water and wastewater systems sectors in the U.S. and Guam.

"Volt Typhoon's choice of targets and pattern of behavior is not consistent with traditional cyber espionage or intelligence gathering operations, and the U.S. authoring agencies assess with high confidence that Volt Typhoon actors are pre-positioning themselves on IT networks to enable lateral movement to OT assets to disrupt functions," the U.S. government said.

The idea is to pre-position themselves on IT networks by maintaining persistence and understanding the target environment over time for disruptive or destructive cyber attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure in the event of a major crisis or conflict with the country.

The joint advisory, which was released by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), National Security Agency (NSA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was also backed by other nations that are part of the Five Eyes (FVEY) intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K.

Volt Typhoon – which is also called Bronze Silhouette, Insidious Taurus, UNC3236, Vanguard Panda, or Voltzite – a stealthy China-based cyber espionage group that's believed to be active since June 2021.

It first came to light in May 2023 when FVEY and Microsoft revealed that the hacking crew managed to establish a persistent foothold into critical infrastructure organizations in the U.S. and Guam for extended periods of time sans getting detected by principally leveraging living-off-the-land (LotL) techniques.

"This kind of tradecraft, known as 'living off the land,' allows attackers to operate discreetly, with malicious activity blending in with legitimate system and network behavior making it difficult to differentiate – even by organizations with more mature security postures," the U.K. National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said.

Another hallmark tactic adopted by Volt Typhoon is the use of multi-hop proxies like KV-botnet to route malicious traffic through a network of compromised routers and firewalls in the U.S. to mask its true origins.

Cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, in a report published in June 2023, called out its reliance on an extensive arsenal of open-source tooling against a narrow set of victims to achieve its strategic goals.

Volt Typhoon actors conduct extensive pre-exploitation reconnaissance to learn about the target organization and its environment; tailor their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to the victim's environment; and dedicate ongoing resources to maintaining persistence and understanding the target environment over time, even after initial compromise," the agencies noted.

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