Chinese-speaking hackers caught spying on pharmaceutical firms

Kaspersky Lab researchers say PlugX malware has attempted to steal drug formulas from organisations in Vietnam

Tags: Cyber crimeKaspersky Lab
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Chinese-speaking hackers caught spying on pharmaceutical firms PlugX is usually spread via spear phishing and has previously been detected in targeted attacks against the military, government and political organisations.
By  David Ndichu Published  April 14, 2018

Kaspersky Lab researchers have detected the infamous PlugX malware in pharmaceutical organisations in Vietnam, aimed at stealing drug formulas and corporate information.

PlugX malware is a well-known remote access tool (RAT). It is usually spread via spear phishing and has previously been detected in targeted attacks against the military, government and political organizations.

“Private and confidential healthcare data is steadily migrating from paper to digital form within medical organisations. While the security of the network infrastructure of this sector is sometimes neglected, the hunt by APTs for information on advancements in drug and equipment innovation is truly worrying. Detections of PlugX malware in pharmaceutical organisations demonstrate yet another battle that we need to fight – and win - with cyber criminals,” said Yury Namestnikov Makrushin, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

The RAT has been used by several Chinese-speaking cyber threat actors, including Deep Panda, NetTraveler or Winnti. In 2013, it was discovered that the latter - responsible for attacking companies in the online gaming industry - had been using PlugX since May 2012. Incidentally, Winnti has also been present in attacks against pharmaceutical companies, where the aim has been to steal digital certificates from medical equipment and software manufacturers.

PlugX RAT allows attackers to perform various malicious operations on a system without the user’s permission or authorisation, including - but not limited to - copying and modifying files, logging keystrokes, stealing passwords and capturing screenshots of user activity. PlugX, as with other RATs, is used by cyber criminals to discreetly steal and collect sensitive or profitable information for malicious purposes.

RAT usage in attacks against pharmaceutical organisations indicates that sophisticated APT actors are showing an increased interest in capitalising on the healthcare sector.

Kaspersky Lab says its products successfully detect and block the PlugX malware.

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