Japanese critical infrastructure under targeted attack

Cylance revealed a multi-year, multi-attack campaign against the Japanese critical infrastructure. Their research uncovers how a well-organized and well-funded threat group, likely associated with a nation/state, has used a variety of attack vectors and techniques to infiltrate and gather sensitive information from companies in electric utilities, oil and gas, finance, transportation and construction.

Japanese critical infrastructure

“Since 2010, a threat group with considerable resources has been using various exploits to attack commercial interests around the globe, with a specific focus on Japan,” said Jon Miller, VP of strategy, Cylance.

“Whereas early activity by the group showed less sophistication and a broader set of targets, SPEAR’s current research indicates the group’s present focus has shifted specifically and exclusively to Japanese companies or Japanese subdivisions of larger foreign organizations. The group has also shown an ability to exploit Android-based mobile devices, illustrating that these types of attacks are more prevalent in the mobile-centric business cultures in Asia. The campaign continues to this day,” Miller added.

Operation Dust Storm

Specific findings of the research include:

  • Exclusive focus on Japan in later stages: Recent activity has shown an exclusive focus on Japanese companies or Japanese divisions of larger organizations not headquartered in Japan.
  • Sustained attack campaigns: The campaign spans more than five years of persistent, multiple cyber attacks against companies in Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and Europe.
  • Long-term purpose: After evaluating the malware at the first stages of attack on the hacked networks and systems, Cylance found evidence showing that the prime motives are long-term data exfiltration and theft.
  • Variety of critical infrastructure targets: Critical infrastructure targets include electric utilities, oil and gas, finance, transportation and construction.
  • Increasing focus on Japanese commercial and energy interests: The campaign is most likely being directed by a nation/state attack group growing in sophistication and focus, who are specifically targeting Japanese companies or Japanese subsidiaries of multinational corporations.
  • Continuous, undocumented threats: Last year Cylance discovered two more waves of attacks that started in July 2015 and October 2015. One of the primary targets was a Japanese subsidiary of a South Korean electric utility.
  • Wide range of attack types and vectors: Attacks have employed spear phishing, waterholes, unique backdoors and unique zero-day variants, among others, to breach corporate networks and Android-based mobile devices.
  • Targeted corporate attacks: The campaign has made use of malware that is customized for particular target organizations; one 2015 attack involved the use of an S-Type backdoor variant designed specifically to compromise the investment arm of a major Japanese automaker.

The complete Operation Dust Storm report is available here. Cylance analysis is ongoing and there will be more updates as new aspects and new attacks are uncovered.