'Hurricane Panda' hackers used Microsoft zero-day, CrowdStrike says

The group, which targets technology infrastructure companies, is believed to be linked to China's government

One of the zero-day flaws patched by Microsoft on Tuesday had been used for some time by a group with suspected Chinese government ties that targets technology companies, CrowdStrike's chief executive said.

CEO Dmitri Alperovitch said his CrowdStrike has been battling with the group, which the company dubbed "Hurricane Panda," on a daily basis since earlier this year.

"They've been very persistent actors," Alperovitch said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We believe with confidence they're indeed tied to the Chinese government in their objectives."

Hurricane Panda has targeted technology infrastructure companies, Alperovitch said. He said he could not identify the companies, which use CrowdStrike's services.

CrowdStrike analysts often see attacks in action and work to boot the hackers from networks. It results in a fast-playing offense and defense, which Alperovitch said can lead to mistakes by the hackers seeking to keep their foothold.

"We are able to literally record every command they try and understand immediately what they're doing," he said.

For example, the analysts will often see hackers mistype commands, such as "hsotname" instead of "hostname" and "romote" for "remote," as they hastily try to maintain their access.

Hurricane Panda is noteworthy for using tightly written exploit code, "win64.exe," that allowed the group to move through network systems once a computer had been hacked. That tool would be uploaded using a webshell nicknamed "ChinaChopper" that the attackers had placed on a company's servers, Alperovitch said.

Win64.exe, which runs on 64-bit Windows systems, takes advantage of a privilege escalation vulnerability, which can allow attackers to gain administrative rights to other programs from the account of a user who doesn't have those permissions.

Microsoft patched the vulnerability, CVE-2014-4113, on Tuesday, but Hurricane Panda had been using it for a while. CrowdStrike notified Microsoft of the flaw when it discovered the attackers were using it, Alperovitch said.

If successfully exploited, the flaw allows arbitrary code to be run in kernel mode, allowing an attacker to install programs, view or change data or create new accounts with full administrator rights, according to a blog post from Symantec on Tuesday.

Privilege escalation flaws aren't rare, but it is uncommon to see one used for so long by a group, which indicates that the attackers have "knowledge about non-public exploitable security bugs, which usually means the exploit was either bought from a supplier or developed in-house," Alperovitch wrote in a post on the company's blog.

Win64.exe contained an interesting embedded string of characters, "woqunimalegebi," which translates to a Chinese swear word, Alperovitch said. The word is often misspelled in Chinese to avoid being blocked by the country's filtering equipment, and that intentional error changes the meaning of the vulgarity to "fertile grass mud horse in the Mahler Gobi Desert," according to CrowdStrike.

Alperovitch said it's hard to say why programmers insert such messages, but "perhaps they were trying to send a message to anyone that is reverse engineering the code."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags CrowdStrikeMicrosoftsecurityExploits / vulnerabilitiesmalware

More about GobiindeedMicrosoftPandaSymantec

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts