Cyber-attackers targeted chemical and defense companies over a two-month-long campaign to steal sensitive information by infecting systems with the PoisonIvy Trojan.
has identified a cyber-spying campaign to steal information from chemical and
defense companies around the world.
"Nitro" by Symantec, the campaign began in April, according to a
whitepaper released by Symantec Oct. 31. Cyber-attackers originally targeted
human rights organizations and the auto industry before moving on to the
chemical industry in July.
least 48 companies are believed to have been targeted across various industry
verticals, including 29 companies involved in research and development of
chemical compounds and companies that develop materials for military vehicles.
The other 19 were in other sectors, including defense. A dozen victims were
based in the United States, five were in the United Kingdom, and others were in
Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan. Even so, the largest percentage of
affected systems was in the United States and Bangladesh.
purpose of the attacks appears to be industrial espionage, collecting
intellectual property for competitive advantage," wrote Eric Chien and
Gavin O'Gorman in the whitepaper.
campaign relied on email with the well-known off-the-shelf Trojan called
PoisonIvy attached to the message. One set of emails was sent to targeted
recipients within an organization pretending to be meeting invitations from
known business partners, and the other set was sent to a larger group of
victims and masqueraded as a security update, according to Symantec.
on the system, PoisonIvy opened a backdoor; contacted a remote command and control
server; and transmitted the IP address, names of all other computers in the
workgroup or domain, and a dump of Windows cashed password hashes.
using access to additional computers through the currently logged on user or
cracked passwords through dumped hashes, the attackers then began traversing
the network infecting additional computers," Symantec researchers wrote.
attackers' primary goal appears to be obtaining domain administrator
credentials and gaining access to a system where intellectual property is
stored, according to Symantec. The attackers' behavior has varied slightly with
each compromise, but once the intellectual property is found, they copy the
contents to a handful of internal systems that have been designated as a
staging area. The data is then uploaded to a remote server, which was traced to
a virtual private server (VPS) in the United States and owned by a
"20-something male located in the Hebei region in China," according to
technique is similar to what attackers allegedly did during the attack on
Japan's largest defense contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, in August, but
Symantec declined to identify any of the affected Japanese companies.
are increasingly launching reconnaissance activities to ferret out sensitive
information before extracting them from the organizations, Noa Bar-Yosef, a
senior security strategist at Imperva, told eWEEK
in an earlier interview.
by a Chinese coder, PoisonIvy is widely available on the Internet and has its
own Website. It has been implicated in recent attacks, including the campaign that
compromised RSA Security and allowed thieves to steal information related to
the SecurID authentication technology.
said other groups targeted some of the same chemical companies during the time
period by sending malicious PDF and DOC files that exploit vulnerabilities to
download Sogu, a backdoor Trojan. It is "difficult" to determine if
the Nitro gang with PoisonIvy is related to the group using Sogu, but
"unlikely" because the attack methods are so different, according to