Chinese hacking drive targets US-based satellite, defence firms: Symantec

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A new attack campaign originating from computers in China has infiltrated satellite communications, telecoms, geospatial imaging, and defence organisations in the U.S. and Southeast Asia, warns cybersecurity giant Symantec.

The motive of the hacking group, known as "Thrip", is likely national cyber espionage, security researchers at Symantec Corp. said on Tuesday.

Such interception capabilities are rare, but not unheard of, and the researchers could not say what communications, if any, were taken.

Of the most concern to Symantec was Thrip's interest in the operational side of a satellite communications company, with the group seeking to infect computers running software that monitor and control satellites.

"Disruption to satellites could leave civilian as well as military installations subject to huge disruptions", said Vikram Thakur, technical director at Symantec. "We are extremely dependent on their functionality". After all, satellites are one of the most important aspects when it comes to maintaining the phone and internet networks, as well as data mapping and positioning. Luckily, in one of the interviews, Symantec disclosed that the hackers have been removed from the systems before causing any irreparable damage.

Symantec is calling the group responsible for the hack, Thrip though it may be referred to by different names at other security firms. It also said it's not clear how Thrip is infecting targeted systems.

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Furthermore, the firm has already shared all of their findings with the Department of Homeland Security, as well as with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Symantec didn't immediately respond to a request for additional information. In that period, it developed new tools and began using more widely available administrative and criminal programs, Thakur said.

In the new attacks that started late previous year when talk of a U.S.

Other security analysts have also recently tied sophisticated attacks to Chinese groups that had been out of sight for awhile, and there could be overlap. FireEye had no immediate comment on the new episode.

The hacking collective, codenamed Thrip, has been using powerful malware against targets in the USA and Southeast Asia, researchers said in a detailed analysis published on Tuesday. In the past, it depended on trick emails that had infected attachments or led recipients to malicious links. This year, Symantec detected "powerful malware" in Asia that it believes the hackers deployed to carry out spying operations and potentially destructive attacks.

Using "living off the land" tactics, a growing trend of attackers using tools already installed on targeted devices to blend into victims' networks and hide malicious activity among legitimate processes, Thrip launched attacks from three computers in China, according to Symantec's security response attack investigation team, in an attempt to spy on and even disrupt organisations' systems.


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