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New York Times hackers linked to Japan Ichitaro attacks

Backdoors targeting government victims

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Security experts have uncovered attacks exploiting a zero day vulnerability in Japan’s most popular word processing software, bearing all the hallmarks of a Chinese group blamed for last year's New York Times hack.

Ichitaro developer, JustSystems, announced a remote code execution vulnerability in multiple versions of the software last week.

Symantec has claimed, in a blog post, that it had already detected attacks in the wild attempting to exploit this vulnerability, which could lead to the execution of arbitrary code on a victim’s machine.

These attacks feature the same backdoor, identified as Backdoor.Vidgrab, that was spotted in an attack exploiting the Microsoft Internet Explorer Memory Corruption Vulnerability (CVE-2013-3893). Redmond patched that up last month.

Symantec continued:

It is reasonable to assume that the same malware group, or another group with close connections, is behind the attacks that utilised the Internet Explorer and Ichitaro vulnerabilities. Backdoor.Vidgrab is known to be used to target the Asia-Pacific region with government sectors being the primary targets according to TrendMicro. Symantec telemetries do not dispute this claim.

In the attacks spotted by Symantec, malware is hidden in an email attachment, as per a classic advanced persistent threat campaign, but is slightly unusual in that the content is a spoof marketing email from a popular Japanese e-commerce site, with the attachment taking the form of a virtual flyer.

A variant of the Trojan.Mdropper seen in the Ichitaro attacks was spotted by Symantec back in June. It attempts to download malware from a server associated with APT 12, a Chinese cyber crime group pegged by Mandiant for attacks on the New York Times last year.

Symantec has a couple of theories about the Ichitaro attacks:

The attackers, possibly belonging to the APT12 group who may have also developed Backdoor.Vidgrab, are persistently targeting similar, if not the identical, targets by attempting to exploit Ichitaro. The attackers may also be using the targets as guinea pigs to test if the exploit code works properly. The attack may also be a precursor, the attackers could have run the tests in order to find effective email contents and subject lines, for example, that are enticing enough lure targets into opening the malicious attachment.

JustSystems has released a patch for the remote code execution vulnerability, which Ichitaro users are urged to apply. ®

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