Researchers at CrowdStrike reveal that hacking team dubbed Deep Panda is targeting US think thank firms with a significant knowledge on the Iraqi situation.

CrowdStrike security firm revealed that a group of hackers, suspected to be linked to the Chinese cyber army, began targeting PCs belonging to think thank firms which are analyzing the Iraqi situation. Experts at CrowdStrike believe that the bad actor behind the attacks is the same who for years targeted US experts on Asian geopolitical matters.  Experts at CrowdStrike declined to identify the companies which were targeted by the hackers.

The group, dubbed “Deep Panda”, is well known to the cyber security community, during  the past years it has targeted defense, financial and other industries in the US. The group used for its attacks many exploits distributing through the execution of a “drive-by download exploit” different malware, including the popular Poison Ivy.

In the past the hackers mainly targeted Intelligence experts working on Southeast Asian affairs, including government experts and former officials.

CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch declared that he has “great confidence” that bad actors are state-sponsored hackers, but he hasn’t provided further details on the investigation conducted by his team of experts.

As explained in the blog post published by CrowdStrike, think tank companies aren’t adopting necessary countermeasures to mitigate cyber threats despite the high confidential information they manage.

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“Despite this high threat level, these think tanks are organized as non-profits and often do not have the budgets of commercial organizations to afford cutting-edge security technologies that can help them effectively detect these threats.” reports CrowdStrike.

Experts at CrowdStrike noted a surge of the activities of the group of hackers in concomitants of the attacks, occurred in June 18th, to the Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) militants. Alleged chinese hackers started a cyber espionage campaign which targeted PCs of US think tank experts who were experts on the Iraqi crisis.

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The explanation of the great interest in  the Iraqi crisis is that the country is one of the principal oil producers, it is “the fifth-largest source of crude for China, while China is the largest foreign investor in Iraq’s oil infrastructure” as reported by the Reuters agency.

“This actor, who was engaged in targeting and collection of Southeast Asia policy information, suddenly began targeting individuals with a tie to Iraq/Middle East issues. This is undoubtedly related to the recent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) takeover of major parts of Iraq and the potential disruption for major Chinese oil interests in that country. In fact, Iraq happens to be the fifth-largest source of crude oil imports for China and the country is the largest foreign investor in Iraq’s oil sector. ” said CrowdStrike.

Local disorders could have a serious impact on the oil exports, for this reason Chinese Government is monitoring the evolution of the insurrection in the region. According to the experts of the security company the hacking group is one of the most sophisticated of the 30 it tracks in China, its cyber espionage campaigns are conducted with impressive efficiency making hard their detection and the attribution to state-sponsored hackers.

The analysis provided by CrowdStrike is the demonstration that Governments are increasing the practice of state-sponsored hacking to collect sensitive information on events that could have a serious repercussion on the economy, the security and politics of a country. Hacking groups like Deep Panda represent a menace for every industry as explained by the experts.

“DEEP PANDA presents a very serious threat not just to think tanks, but also multinational financial institutions, law firms, defense contractors, and government agencies. Due to their stellar operational security and reliance on anti-forensic and anti-IOC detection techniques, detecting and stopping them is very challenging” states the report.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Editor-In-Chief, CDM)

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