Feds targeted in Clandestine Wolf phishing campaign

DHS and the FBI are briefing agencies about a new threat from Chinese hackers.

Shutterstock image (by wk1003mike): a fishing hook with keys on a computer circuit.

A tenacious team of Chinese hackers targeted several large federal agencies in June with a new spear phishing campaign that uses an undiscovered flaw in Adobe Flash Player.

Although the flaw used by the campaign, dubbed Operation Clandestine Wolf, has been patched since it was discovered in early June, it has nonetheless left some federal agencies scrambling to determine how much damage was done to their IT operations.

U.S. authorities and cybersecurity companies have attributed the campaign to an ongoing series of large-scale spear phishing and hacking efforts aimed at U.S. targets by a dogged group of Chinese hackers that uses bogus websites, social media and malware to access targets' networks, steal passwords and set up surveillance operations.

According to FireEye, the cybersecurity firm that uncovered the zero-day flaw in Adobe's Flash Player in early June, the backers of Operation Clandestine Wolf launched a large-scale phishing campaign against organizations in aerospace and defense, construction and engineering, high-tech, telecommunications and transportation.

However, according to an unclassified but restricted For Official Use Only security advisory from the Agriculture Department (one of several federal agencies affected), the campaign also had some large federal agencies in its crosshairs.

Sources at the targeted agencies told FCW that in the past few weeks, IT managers have been briefed by teams from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security about Clandestine Wolf after some IT departments reported infiltrations of networks using spear phishing and attached malware.

In the briefings, the FBI and DHS told federal agencies that it was difficult to know whether the hackers had compromised systems but said they had targeted hundreds of employees. The USDA's security advisory lists about 400 individual employee names that had been targeted in the campaign. The advisory states that since the attack, no successful exploitations have been recorded, but the lack of such a report was not evidence that a system had not been compromised.

The advisory and FireEye's online statement said the newest campaign is backed by APT3, also called UPS, the Chinese hacker group responsible for the Operation Clandestine Fox and Double Tap hacks in 2014 that exploited flaws in Internet Explorer and Windows code.

DHS had no comment when FCW asked about the operation's impact on federal agencies, and FireEye did not respond to inquiries about the campaign.

Like most spear phishing campaigns, this effort singled out specific agency employees with innocuous-sounding email messages that contained a URL to a server hosting ScanBox JavaScript. That code would identify a user's vulnerable software and then download a malicious Adobe file that opened a backdoor into a target's network.

FireEye's statement about Clandestine Wolf notes that "this group is one of the more sophisticated threat groups that FireEye Threat Intelligence tracks, and they have a history of introducing new browser-based zero-day exploits (e.g., Internet Explorer, Firefox and Adobe Flash Player). After successfully exploiting a target host, this group will quickly dump credentials, move laterally to additional hosts and install custom backdoors. APT3's command and control...infrastructure is difficult to track, as there is little overlap across campaigns."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.