China's APT40 targets new vulnerabilities and can abuse them within hours

Shadowed hands on a digital background reaching for a login prompt.
Image Credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Chinese state-sponsored threat actors, tracked by Western cybersecurity agencies as APT40, work fast. They hunt for previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, quickly build exploits, and rush to deploy them as soon as possible.

In some instances, the entire process, from vulnerability discovery to exploitation, only lasted a couple of hours.

This is according to a new security advisory, jointly published by national security agencies from Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, the UK, and Germany.

Targeting SOHO gear

Two years ago, Australia’s Cyber Security Centre (ASCS) was called by a local business to assist with a cyberattack. With the victim’s permission, the agency "deployed host-based sensors to likely affected hosts on the organization's network,” in order to track the attacker’s operations and map out its activities.

The advisory came as the result of that analysis, and states that APT40 "possesses the capability to rapidly transform and adapt exploit proof-of-concept(s) (POCs) of new vulnerabilities and immediately utilize them against target networks possessing the infrastructure of the associated vulnerability." 

Besides hunting for new flaws, the group also scans the internet for known vulnerabilities which haven’t been patched and as such present an easy gateway into the target infrastructure.

"This regular reconnaissance postures the group to identify vulnerable, end-of-life or no longer maintained devices on networks of interest, and to rapidly deploy exploits," the agencies said. They are scanning for devices still vulnerable to Log4shell, Atlassian Confluence flaws, as well as known Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities. 

"APT40 has embraced the global trend of using compromised devices, including small-office/home-office (SOHO) devices, as operational infrastructure and last-hop redirectors for its operations in Australia," the researchers added. "Many of these SOHO devices are end-of-life or unpatched and offer a soft target for N-day exploitation."

Targeting SOHO devices is a double-edged sword, though, as it also allows security agencies to track and analyze the attackers, and thus assist in setting up defenses.

Via TheRegister

More from TechRadar Pro

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.