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Chemical biz 'Nitro' hackers use Java to coat PCs in poison ivy

Chinese spying crew is back in business

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The crew behind last year's "Nitro" industrial espionage attacks are among hackers exploiting the two potent Java security vulnerabilities patched this week.

The team, which attempted to lift sensitive blueprints from companies by compromising workers' computers, is now using holes in Oracle's software to install Poison Ivy on victims' Windows machines, Symantec reports. A malicious Java applet bypasses security checks to execute the Poison Ivy malware that opens a backdoor on infected PCs to allow a remote malicious user to gain control of the system.

The latest wave of attacks rely on the same command servers and involve components with the same file names as last year's assault, which targeted chemical industry giants and defence contractors. A 20-something Chinese bloke dubbed Covert Grove was accused by Symantec [PDF] of being involved in that 2011 campaign as the attacks were traced back to his server. There's more on the Nitro attack in this analysis by Trend Micro.

Now that source code exploiting the new Java vulnerabilities is in the wild, it won't just be the Nitro team seizing upon it to execute arbitrary software on victims' machines. For example, code taking advantage of the holes has been added to the BlackHole exploit tool kit, which infects vulnerable computers when a punter visits a booby-trapped web page.

In addition, Sophos has intercepted spam emails purporting to be from the Dutch branch of the accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward that attempt to trick marks into running the Java attack code. The dodgy emails, which unusually include the exploit script in the body of messages, pose as communiques in Dutch about a rise in tax rates. ®

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