The Chinese group behind the recently discovered NetTraveler attacks is now using widespread interest in the infamous National Security Agency (NSA) PRISM surveillance program to encourage users to open malicious email attachments, it has emerged.
Brandon Dixon of the 9bplus blog said he came across an email uploaded to VirusTotal entitled “CIA’s Prism Watchlist”.
The intended recipient of the message was a Yahoo account associated with the Regional Tibet Youth Congress in Mundgod, India, he added. The sender address was apparently faked to approximate "Jill Kelley" – the woman whose complaints of harassment prompted the investigation which led to the resignation of former CIA boss David Petraeus.
The Word doc attached was named “Monitored List 1.doc”, containing malware designed to exploit the same vulnerability (CVE-2012-0158) favoured by the NetTraveler gang, Dixon wrote.
“It’s funny to note that these actors are keeping up with their same techniques and infrastructure (not all of it) despite being 100 per cent outed,” he added. “Again, this sort of behaviour shows poor operational security or a complete lack of care.”
The NetTraveler attacks were first brought to light by Kaspersky Lab earlier this month, when researchers at the AV vendor revealed that the campaign had successfully compromised more than 350 high profile victims in 40 countries, with the malware in question having been active since 2004.
Key targets included embassies, oil and gas corporations, research institutes, military contractors and governments.
Tibetan and Uyghur activists were also among those targeted by the group of 50-odd individuals - usually a tell-tale sign of Chinese involvement.
Kaspersky added that most members were native Chinese speakers. ®