Advanced persistent threat (APT) actors are constantly seeking new, more sophisticated ways to perform their attacks. That is why Kaspersky researchers monitor how APT groups refresh and update their toolsets. According to Kaspersky’s quarterly report, the threat landscape saw an increase in attacks against Microsoft Exchange servers in Q2 2021. In the latest APT 2021 Report, Kaspersky reveals the details of a unique long-standing operation, ‘GhostEmperor’, which uses Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities to target high-profile victims with an advanced toolset and no affinity to any known threat actor.
GhostEmperor is a Chinese-speaking threat actor that has been discovered by Kaspersky researchers. It mostly focuses on targets in Southeast Asia, including several governmental entities and telecoms companies.
This actor stands out because it uses a formerly unknown Windows kernel-mode rootkit. Rootkits provide remote control access over the servers they target. Acting covertly, rootkits are notorious for hiding from investigators and security solutions. To bypass the Windows Driver Signature Enforcement mechanism, GhostEmperor uses a loading scheme involving the component of an open-source project named “Cheat Engine”. This advanced toolset is unique and Kaspersky researchers see no affinity to already known threat actors. Kaspersky experts have surmised that this toolset has been in use since at least July 2020.
“As detection and protection techniques evolve, so do APT actors. They typically refresh and update their toolsets. GhostEmperor is a clear example of how cybercriminals look for new techniques to use and new vulnerabilities to exploit. Using a previously unknown, sophisticated rootkit, they brought new problems to the already well-established trend of attacks against Microsoft Exchange servers,” comments David Emm, security expert at Kaspersky.
Besides the growth of attacks against Microsoft Exchange servers, Kaspersky experts also highlight the following trends on the APT landscape in Q2:
To learn more about GhostEmperor and other significant discoveries of the quarter, read the APT trends report Q2 2021 on Securelist. The report summarizes the findings of Kaspersky’s subscriber-only threat intelligence reports, which also include Indicators of Compromise (IoC) data and YARA rules to assist in forensics and malware hunting. For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
In order to avoid falling victim to a targeted attack by a known or unknown threat actor, Kaspersky researchers recommend implementing the following measures:
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