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Espionage hack attack preys on chemical firms

Spotted in the wild: Nitro Part II

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More than two months after the discovery of an organized malware campaign targeting dozens of companies in the defense and chemical industries, the espionage hack attack shows no signs of letting up.

According to a blog post published on Monday, the same group that targeted at least 38 companies between July and September is continuing its assault with emails that attempt to trick recipients at sensitive companies into installing backdoor trojans on their employer-issued computers. In the latest iteration, the emails contain a malicious attachment of the very document Symantec issued in late October warning of the so-called Nitro attacks.

“Despite the publishing of the whitepaper, this group persists in continuing their activities unchecked,” Symantec researchers Tony Millington and Gavin O’Gorman wrote. “They are using the exact same techniques – even using the same hosting provider for their command and control (C&C) servers.”

The domains used in the attacks have been disabled, and Symantec officials have contacted the hosting providers used in the attacks. The company's email scanning service continues to block the malicious messages.

Monday's report comes two months after Symantec warned that dozens of companies in the defense and chemical industries had been hit by attacks that installed a variant of the publicly available Poison Ivy backdoor trojan on network-connected PCs. Once installed, the program uploaded proprietary data to servers under the control of attackers. Symantec said at the time that it disrupted the campaign in the middle of September. The latest report didn't say how the attackers were able to revive the attack.

The Symantec report came around the same time that an IT manager for Shell told the World Petroleum Conference that the industry is experiencing an uptick in online attacks. “We see an increasing number of attacks on our IT systems and information and there are various motivations behind it – criminal and commercial.” ®

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