The Naikon hacker group is exploiting government, civil and military organizations in the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, China and Nepal, according to a new report from security firm Kaspersky Lab.
The Naikon hackers, active for the last five years, have a repertoire of 48 backdoor commands in their toolset to exploit victims. The name Naikon is a reference to a name that is found in the code the hacker group uses.
"It was derived from the user-agent string [which Naikon] hard-coded into one of the group's backdoors, one that exclusively they use: Nokian95," Kurt Baumgartner, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told eWEEK.
The Nokian95 backdoor is dropped as part of a spear-phish attack that tricks users into clicking on something that will trigger a payload installation, Baumgartner said, adding that there has never has been accurate and robust reporting on the Naikon group.
In recent months, other security firms, notably FireEye, have reported on nation-state-backed hacking activities in Southeast Asia. FireEye has dubbed one such group APT30, which has been active since 2005 targeting governments and journalists.
"There does not seem to be a direct connection between Naikon and other APT operations," Baumgartner said.
The backdoor that Naikon threat group uses has 48 available commands to enable attackers to remotely control and remove data from victims' systems. Kaspersky's research also found that the code Naikon uses is platform-independent and has the ability to intercept the entire network traffic of a target.
One interesting tactic Naikon uses is that the group places a proxy server within a given country's borders in order to support real-time connections and data exfiltration.
"When a proxy is required, they will set it up within any one of many hosting providers that they can find within the target country," Baumgartner explained.
Naikon also uses a specific individual human operator that focuses on each target country in order to fully understand cultural aspects that could help the group to infiltrate victims' systems.
The group makes extensive use of the CVE-2012-0158 vulnerability that was first disclosed and patched in April 2012. That vulnerability is a Microsoft Windows operating system flaw that could allow remote code execution.
Naikon has been able to use the CVE-2012-0158 exploit effectively for years, Baumgartner said.
"When it's completely patched at a target site, the target site was not necessarily safe," Baumgartner said. "The Naikon APT [advanced persistent threat] uses other tuned social engineering techniques."
Other researchers have emphasized the growing risk of old vulnerabilities enabling exploitation. Hewlett-Packard's 2015 Cyber Risk Report found that 44 percent of breaches could be attributed to patched vulnerabilities that were between 2 and 4 years old.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.