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Latest version of data-stealer targets Uyghur dissidents

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A piece of malware linked to attacks against governments and organisations involved in hi-tech industries such as space exploration and nuclear power has been adapted to exploit a recently uncovered Java security flaw.

NetTraveler has been outfitted to exploit a recently patched Java bug as part of a watering-hole-style attack involving compromised websites that redirects victims to an attack site hosting exploit code.

The latest variants of the malware appear, which surfaced over the last few days, appear to be targeting dissident Uyghur activists from China, net security firm Kaspersky Lab warns.

Kaspersky Lab was first to warn about the cyber-nasty back in June but subsequent checks revealed that the malware has been silently doing the rounds since 2004.

NetTraveler (also known as “Travnet”, “Netfile” or Red Star APT) is an advanced persistent threat that has infected hundreds of high profile victims in more than 40 countries. Known targets of NetTraveler include Tibetan/Uyghur activists, oil industry companies, scientific research centres and institutes, universities, private companies, governments and their institutions, embassies and military contractors.

Immediately after the public exposure of NetTraveler's operations in June 2013, the attackers shut down all known command-and-control systems and moved them to new servers in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. After the switch, the attacks continued more or less unabated.

Over the last few days, several spear-phishing emails were sent to multiple Uyghur activists. The Java exploit (CVE-2013-2465) used to distribute this new variant of the Red Star APT was only patched by Oracle in June 2013. Earlier attacks have used Office exploits (CVE-2012-0158) that were patched by Microsoft in April 2012.

More details on the evolution of the threat can be found in a blog post by Costin Raiu, director of global research at Kaspersky Lab, in a blog post on Securelist here.

The Uyghur community is an ethnic group who mostly live in Eastern and Central Asia. The community has long desired independence, or at the very least greater autonomy, from Han Chinese rule. ®

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