Aliases: Bronze Starlight, Cicada, Cloud Hopper, Red Apollo, CNVX, Stone Panda, MenuPass, POTASSIUM, MenuPass Group, APT 10
Targeted Sectors: Construction and Engineering, Aerospace, Telecom, Government
Targeted Regions: North America, Western Asia, Eastern Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Africa.
Motive: Espionage, Data Theft
Malware Used: ScanBox, Quasar, BugJuice, SnuGride, HayMaker, Uppercut, RedLeaves, PlugX, Hartip, SodaMaster, Ecipekac, P8RAT, FYAnti, Impacket.AI, Rook, Pandora, AtomSilo, LockFile, and Night Sky.
Tools Used: AdFind, certutil, Cobalt Strike, Ecipekac, esentutl, Mimikatz, PsExec, and pwdump.
Believed to be active since 2006, APT10 is a Chinese state-sponsored cyberespionage group, possibly connected to the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS). In 2018, the group was reported snooping and stealing trade secrets and technologies from at least 12 countries. Multiple security agencies track the group with different names such as MenuPass by FireEye, Stone Panda by Crowdstrike, APT10 by Mandiant, and POTASSIUM by Microsoft. In June 2022, this group was observed using ransomware attacks as a decoy to cover up its malicious activities, which is an uncommon tactic to be used by an APT group.
APT10 has been using traditional attack methods such as spear-phishing, as well as modern tactics such as supply chain attacks. Since 2009, the group has mostly been using LNK files within archives and files with double extensions in its spear-phishing attacks. In some cases, it used identically named decoy documents and malicious launchers inside the same archive. Starting in 2017, according to Mandiant, APT10 began hacking and accessing victims’ networks through global service providers, via sophisticated supply chain attacks. Service providers usually have significant access to customer networks that allows an attacker to move laterally inside a compromised network and infect more systems. In 2017, Operation Cloud Hopper spread over 70 variants of backdoors, malware, and trojans using spear-phishing emails. The attacks scheduled tasks or used services/utilities to persist in Windows systems. Further, they installed malware and hacking tools to access systems and steal data. In addition to this, APT10 was observed abusing some trending flaws, including ProxyLogon and ProxyShell, in Exchange Servers to target its victims. Around mid-2022, it was seen in an attack campaign carrying a ransomware payload to hide its espionage-related intentions and manipulate security professionals. It was apparently creating short-lived ransomware strains while targeting Japanese and western organizations to steal their intellectual properties by posing ransomware.
Malware and Tools
The APT10 gang has used various malware in its attacks:
- Information stealer - ScanBox
- RATs: Quasar, PlugX, P8RAT, and PoisonIvy,
- Backdoor: BugJuice aka RedLeaves, SodaMaster, Hartip, SnuGride, HayMaker, and Uppercut)
- Loaders: (HUI Loader, Ecipekac,, and FYAnti)
- Trojans: Impacket.AI and ChChes, and
- Ransomware: Rook, Pandora, AtomSilo, LockFile, and Night Sky
The group has used a wide range of tools in its attack campaigns, including AdFind, certutil, Cobalt Strike, Ecipekac, esentutl, Mimikatz, PsExec, PowerSploit, Wevtutil, esentutl, tcping, Ntdsutil
, and pwdump.
APT10 is believed to have strong connections with Chinese state agencies, and its operations are mostly aligned with Chinese national interests. The group has participated in cyberattacks targeting the 2018 Olympics, which is considered one of the most deceptive hacks. Researchers identified numerous code fragments in the Olympic Destroyer malware, ultimately linking it back to APT10. In September, a mysterious threat hunting group named Intrusion Truth reported that APT10 is associated with the Chinese intelligence agency, particularly China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS). The report also named two Chinese individuals Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, who was later charged with breaking into the networks of more than 45 technology firms and some U.S. government agencies. In 2020, Symantec uncovered an attack campaign by Cicada targeting multiple Japanese organizations in the pharmaceutical, engineering, and automotive sectors, as well as managed service providers. Eventually, it turned out that the same group that the U.S. government agencies have been tracking as APT10. In April 2022, APT10 activities overlapped with another threat group named TA410. The TA410 group was seen using an upgraded version of malware called JollyFrog, which has been attributed to APT10 by Fortinet. Moreover, another tool used by TA410, called FlowingFrog, shares network infrastructure (the domain ffca.caibi379[.]com) with APT10’s JolllyFrog malware, providing further hints of a connection between the duo.
As mentioned above, the U.S. federal agencies have been tracking APT10 for targeting MSPs, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise and IBM, and other IT companies across a dozen states. The group mostly targets aerospace, engineering, and telecom firms and any government that is a rival of the Chinese regime.
Additionally, the threat actor has targeted manufacturing companies located in India, Japan, and Northern Europe. At present, it is often observed targeting North America and East Asia.
2014 to 2018: From 2014 to 2018, the group carried out Operation Cloud Hopper, an extensive attack and theft of information directed at MSPs in the U.K, U.S., Japan, Canada, Brazil, France, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, South Africa, India, Thailand, South Korea, and Australia. The group used MSPs as intermediaries to acquire assets and trade secrets from MSP-client engineering, industrial manufacturing, retail, energy, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, and government agencies. Records of more than 130,000 U.S. Navy personnel, including their Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and salaries, were acquired by the cybercriminals. Around the end of 2018, it was revealed that around nine global service providers, including IBM and HPE, were compromised by these attacks. 2019 to 2022: In mid-2019, German software maker TeamViewer disclosed that it was targeted by a China-linked threat actor, possibly APT10, back in 2016. The same year, ADEO IT Consulting Services reported that APT10 has a particular interest in Turkey, for which it was targeting critical sectors such as finance and telecommunications. Over the next three years, the group carried out several attacks on various industries, some of the notable ones are as follows. In 2020, a large-scale attack campaign targeted various Japanese organizations, including subsidiaries located in 17 regions worldwide. In 2021, the group targeted the IT systems of two Indian vaccine makers whose coronavirus shots were used in the country's immunization campaign. At the beginning of 2022, a Taiwan-based security agency linked APT10 to attacks exploiting a vulnerability in a security product that was used by around 80% of organizations in the Taiwanese financial sector. Moreover, in June 2022, the gang was found stealing intellectual property from Western and Japanese firms using HUI Loader to deploy remote access trojans.
Spear-phishing is one of the oldest and primary attack methods used by APT10, and therefore, organizations are suggested to provide training to their employees on identifying and responding to phishing emails. The group is well versed in using a wide range of malicious tools. A multi-layered approach toward security, along with behavior-based anti-malware solutions, could be an effective strategy as the initial line of defense. Further, to limit external access to devices, implement strong access control for users, maintain effective endpoint security, and enable effective log files for devices, systems, and applications.
But, that isn’t enough in a hyper-connected world of devices to protect them, keeping the APTs’ growing sophistication in mind. It urges for a holistic security program that is threat intelligence-driven and automation-enabled. Security teams need to leverage real-time threat intelligence
to stay aware of changing tactics of the threat in the current thriving cyberattack landscape. Such a security strategy helps in improving threat prediction and producing actionable and positive outcomes.
APT10 has been successfully operating for more than a decade and is still active with new espionage operations, which indicates the continuous efforts made by its operators to keep it active and hidden. Further, it uses a vast range of tool sets, including multiple malware to carry out attacks, pointing toward the wide range of skills and availability of resources. APT10, just like other China-based entities, targets entities that are aligned with the geopolitical interests of that nation.
Indicators of Compromise
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