Although we are receiving frequent alerts from CISA and the FBI about the potential for increased cyber threats coming out of Russia, China continues its cyber threat activity through APT41, which has been linked to China’s Ministry of State Security. According to Mandiant, APT41 has launched a “deliberate campaign targeting U.S. state governments” and has successfully attacked at least six state government networks by exploiting various vulnerabilities, including Log4j.
According to Mandiant, although the Chinese-based hackers are kicked out of state government networks, they repeat the attack weeks later and keep trying to get in to the same networks via different vulnerabilities (a “re-compromise”). One such successful vulnerability that was utilized is the USAHerds zero-day vulnerability, which is a software that state agriculture agencies use to monitor livestock. When the intruders are successful in using the USAHerds vulnerability to get in to the network, they can then leverage the intrusion to migrate to other parts of the network to access and steal information, including personal information.
Mandiant’s outlook on these attacks is sobering:
“APT41’s recent activity against U.S. state governments consists of significant new capabilities, from new attack vectors to post-compromise tools and techniques. APT41 can quickly adapt their initial access techniques by re-compromising an environment through a different vector, or by rapidly operationalizing a fresh vulnerability. The group also demonstrates a willingness to retool and deploy capabilities through new attack vectors as opposed to holding onto them for future use. APT41 exploiting Log4J in close proximity to the USAHerds campaign showed the group’s flexibility to continue targeting U.S state governments through both cultivated and co-opted attack vectors. Through all the new, some things remain unchanged: APT41 continues to be undeterred by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment in September 2020.
Both Russia and China continue to conduct cyber-attacks against both private and public networks in the U.S. and there is no indication that the attacks will subside anytime soon.