Chinese APTs have been targeting Linux servers for almost a decade

China flag keyboard

Five related Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups operating in the interest of the Chinese government have systematically targeted Linux servers, Windows systems and mobile devices running Android while remaining undetected for nearly a decade.

A new report from BlackBerry looks at how these threats have been part of pervasive economic espionage operations targeting intellectual property.

Linux runs nearly all of the top million websites online, 75 percent of all web servers, 98 percent of the world's supercomputers and 75 percent of major cloud service providers. Most large organizations rely on Linux to run websites, proxy network traffic and store valuable data. The BlackBerry report examines how APTs have leveraged the 'always on, always available' nature of Linux servers to establish a 'beachhead for operations' across a wide range of targets.

"Linux is not typically user-facing, and most security companies focus their engineering and marketing attention on products designed for the front office instead of the server rack, so coverage for Linux is sparse," says Eric Cornelius, chief product architect at BlackBerry. "These APT groups have zeroed in on that gap in security and leveraged it for their strategic advantage to steal intellectual property from targeted sectors for years without anyone noticing."

The report concludes that the APT groups examined in this report are likely comprised of civilian contractors working in the interest of the Chinese state who readily share tools, techniques, infrastructure, and targeting information with one another and their government counterparts. There appears to be a significant degree of coordination between these groups, particularly where targeting of Linux platforms is concerned.

The research also highlights a shift by attackers towards the use of cloud service providers for command-and-control and a move to data exfiltration communications which appear to be trusted network traffic.

"This research paints a picture of an espionage effort targeting the very backbone of large organizations' network infrastructure that is more systemic than has been previously acknowledged," says John McClurg, chief information security Officer at BlackBerry. "This report opens another chapter in the Chinese IP theft story, providing us with new lessons to learn."

The full report is available from the BlackBerry site.

Photo credit: karen roach / Shutterstock

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