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Chinese Hackers Infiltrate Firms Using Malware-Laden Handheld Scanners 93

Posted by timothy
from the location-location-location dept.
wiredmikey (1824622) writes China-based threat actors are using sophisticated malware installed on handheld scanners to target shipping and logistics organizations from all over the world. According to security firm TrapX, the attack begins at a Chinese company that provides hardware and software for handheld scanners used by shipping and logistics firms worldwide to inventory the items they're handling. The Chinese manufacturer installs the malware on the Windows XP operating systems embedded in the devices.

Experts determined that the threat group targets servers storing corporate financial data, customer data and other sensitive information. A second payload downloaded by the malware then establishes a sophisticated C&C on the company's finance servers, enabling the attackers to exfiltrate the information they're after. The malware used by the Zombie Zero attackers is highly sophisticated and polymorphic, the researchers said. In one attack they observed, 16 of the 48 scanners used by the victim were infected, and the malware managed to penetrate the targeted organization's defenses and gain access to servers on the corporate network. Interestingly, the C&C is located at the Lanxiang Vocational School, an educational institution said to be involved in the Operation Aurora attacks against Google, and which is physically located only one block away from the scanner manufacturer, TrapX said.
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Chinese Hackers Infiltrate Firms Using Malware-Laden Handheld Scanners

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  • Problem traced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by invictusvoyd (3546069) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:43AM (#47436813)
    The Chinese manufacturer installs the malware on the Windows XP operating systems embedded in the devices.
    • Re:Problem traced (Score:4, Interesting)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:47AM (#47436821)
      With the code size these things tend to have, you could embed an office package into it and nobody would notice. I wonder what happened to the habit of making embedded systems simple and transparent...
      • Re:Problem traced (Score:5, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday July 12, 2014 @07:02AM (#47437207) Homepage Journal

        I wonder what happened to the habit of making embedded systems simple and transparent...

        I remember some 20 years ago a friend of mine was telling me that sooner or later, your microwave would have a whole operating system on it, even though it only performed simple tasks. It was already cheaper even then to use a MCU over discrete logic for many devices which were not staggeringly complex. It's about development time. As long as we fail to demand quality, we will continue to get what is convenient to produce in quantity. Pity about quality.

        • I fully understand how an MCU saves time over using discrete logic. That is a trivial issue. But I sort of fail to see how dealing with complex software on top of complex hardware beats using simple (not trivial!) software on top of simple hardware, perhaps with the exception of this being The Only Way for a lot of solution vendors ("What, you don't want to program in C++ with our 3GB environment? But that's how we do things!").
      • Re:Problem traced (Score:5, Informative)

        by plover (150551) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @07:32AM (#47437271) Homepage Journal

        The "scanner" portion of these devices is typically an embedded system that drives a hardware sensor, and speaks USB out the back side. You could probably open one up, solder a cable to the right points on the scanner board, and you'd have exactly the simple and transparent scanner you requested.

        But because the business wants a truckload (no pun intended) of functionality out of these scanners, they need it to have more capabilities. First, it needs to be on the network, or it won't give them any benefit. Next, it needs to be multi-tasking so it can display alerts, etc. Its primary task may be to inventory the stuff coming off a truck, its other tasks may include assigning work items to line employees, displaying alerts on the supervisors' screens, punching the timeclock for breaks, and possibly even employee email. To a lot of businesses, a browser based interface lets them run whatever kind of functions they want, without the expense of continually pushing a bunch of apps out to a bunch of random machines. So taking all that together, embedded XP is one (bloated) way of meeting all that.

        So while the scanner itself is simple, it's the rest of the hardware in the device that was infested with XP and other malware.

      • It would be just as, if not easier to put a backdoor in a proprietary embedded system. Unless the companies in question both demand and inspect the entire source code for their scanners, it doesn't matter WHAT is running on them.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This was most likely done way before Windows XP was EOL, so blaming it on that isn't right. The big problem is that embedded software usually is closed source, hardly ever edited and almost never gets updated unless there are obvious bugs that limit functionality of the device.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Assuming the holy mantra physical access = security gone; Even if they had the latest and greatest Windows 8.2 SP4 for Embedded or living on the edge with Arch Linux they would still have been compromised.

      The attacker can take as long as he likes to figure out a way to compromise the OS, if on a time crunch simply send out a a batch of good devices while you figure out how to shaft the next batch

  • by Anonymous Coward

    China-based threat actors are using sophisticated malware installed on handheld scanners to target shipping and logistics organizations from all over the world [...] The Chinese manufacturer installs the malware on the Windows XP operating systems embedded in the devices.

    Okay... first, is a "China-based threat actor" anything like a Chinese hacker? Or are we talking about thespians who specialize in instilling apprehension and dread, while standing on top of dinnerware? Because these are two different things.

    Also... Windows XP?!? There's the problem right there. Why in the name of Bob does someone have Windows EMBEDDED in a scanner? You need a GUI to make something go "BEEP"?!? Seriously? Next you'll say that your vacuum cleaner has Windows XP embedded. Hey, look,

    • by toejam13 (958243) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @03:32AM (#47436899)

      They are probably using Windows XP Embedded (XPe), which is a customizable version of the OS. Customers can strip the OS down to only the components they need, significantly reducing the footprint of the OS.

      XPe benefits from being able to use standard XP hardware drivers. Sometimes a driver simply isn't available for Linux, QNX, VxWorks or other embedded OSes. That's one reason that OS/2 based ATMs are disappearing - not because of security, but because drivers for newer card readers don't exist.

      Lastly, you'd be surprised at what a modern scanner looks like. It doesn't just read barcodes and go beep. My workplace uses scanners for inventory tracking, and they come with a full GUI where we can associate new parts with a chassis, report drives being shredded, and just about anything you can think of inventory related.

      • by Virtucon (127420)

        But still vulnerable to a ton and a half of vulnerabilities. Sure you can cut your exposure down (like no IE) but that still doesn't mean that the OS can't be attacked in other ways. You also hit the nail on the head, obsolescence and driver support. A lot of companies want to get away from XP but that means upgrading other systems and in some cases processes because there aren't one for one analogs available. That's the bigger problem, when a company gets hemmed in by the tech they may have selected de

      • Sometimes a driver simply isn't available for Linux, QNX, VxWorks or other embedded OSes.

        That is actually the best argument to avoid such hardware. Rely on hardware that is open standards based, then you can reduce dependency on proprietary drivers

        The reason they have to stay with XPe is because there probably aren't any drivers for Vista/Win7/Win8/Win8.1 So much for the benefit of reusing XP drivers

        • Sometimes a driver simply isn't available for Linux, QNX, VxWorks or other embedded OSes.

          That is actually the best argument to avoid such hardware. Rely on hardware that is open standards based, then you can reduce dependency on proprietary drivers

          The reason they have to stay with XPe is because there probably aren't any drivers for Vista/Win7/Win8/Win8.1 So much for the benefit of reusing XP drivers

          On the other hand, I'm sure whatever is needed could be ported to NetBSD - which can probably also run on these things, as it runs on just about everything else, including toasters [slashdot.org]. Just sayin' that there's more to wide-spread hardware portability than just XPe.

    • by Viol8 (599362)

      "Or are we talking about thespians who specialize in instilling apprehension and dread, while standing on top of dinnerware?"

      Well if they call everyone "Daaahhling!" and have endless anecdotes about how they were at the RSC with Daaahhling Larry doing a particularly evil modern day interpretation of Richard III involving hackers then that may well be the case.

    • by Virtucon (127420)

      Okay... first, is a "China-based threat actor" anything like a Chinese hacker?

      Newspeak. [wikipedia.org]

    • A bad choice, obviously: it's not compatible with a WinXP pencil!
  • by Etherwalk (681268) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:49AM (#47436827)

    Check for uncanny puts and calls on the market before earnings reports come out that can be traced to related parties...

    • by satuon (1822492)

      I'd say "So they know those financials. So what?" It's not like they got the nuclear arsenal codes.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sure they do, it's 0000000

        Everyone knows this.

      • You can buy your own devices with enough cash, which you get from massively profitable trades based on (stolen) insider information.

        I don't think a nuclear arsenal is what they are after though..more likely they just want to take the money and run.

      • The US will never lose a military battle. Russia is attacking our infrastructure, China our economy. If you think this isn't a big deal, you're not getting the big picture.
  • Don't buy stuff from China. It built with the bones of children AND it contains malware.

    • Sadly all of the handheld scanner factories in the US have since shut down.
      • by Mashiki (184564)

        Sounds like to me a prime opportunity to re-open one, and tout "american or canadian made" with "staff from inside the country" along with "rigorous QC."

        • by Mal-2 (675116)

          Sounds like to me a prime opportunity to re-open one, and tout "american or canadian made" with "staff from inside the country" along with "rigorous QC."

          Of course! Because we all know no American agency would place backdoors or malware in a product, right?

      • by Sporkinum (655143)

        I don't know if they are all manufacured in China, but a local company, Intermec, makes and sells scanners. They may be Chinese sourced parts though.

  • In 3 months when absolutely nothing has been done to identify or punish the people responsable for this:
    Look! NSA Spy on you! Snowden nice guy, spend time in Hong kong running from US Government. This, little problem, everyone forget soon!

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @06:09AM (#47437137)

    Really we are just seeing a failure in widely used proprietary software.

    Obscure proprietary software is less of a problem because hackers are less likely to attack it.

  • That China has always been our best friend. It was Frederick of Pinchfield who masterminded Operation Aurora and all the handheld scanner attacks.
  • by stokessd (89903) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @08:29AM (#47437357) Homepage

    If the summary is at all accurate, the manufacture built both the hardware and the software. So blaming the OS is silly. This is a case where any OS could be used, even a custom one, and they would add the spying functionality as they were building it. The real issue is buying hardware systems from unethical folks, no OS hardening in the world will help you when the manufacture controls it.

    If China doesn't improve their stand on ethics, they will be relegated to building bath toys and partial systems where their leaks and theft aren't super critical. If they hope to join the rest of the developed world, they need to get their shit together.

    • The problem is we have no place to be telling china to improve their hacking ethics these days.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ethics are only a problem for people that are well fed and comfortable. Just saying.

      Would you steal bread from the wealthy decadent neighbor if your family was starving? Would it be more ethical to let your children starve?

      Contrived example, I know. But as wealth inequality gets worse, so too do these issues. If your standard of living is 2 orders of magnitude better, I'm pretty sure the people living in poverty will all heave a great sigh of pity at this injustice to your stock portfolio.

      Seriously? Bat

    • If they hope to join the rest of the developed world, they need to get their shit together.

      so, you suggest, USA ain't developed?

      http://tech.slashdot.org/story/14/04/22/001239/intentional-backdoor-in-consumer-routers-found [slashdot.org]

    • i'm Chinese but I don/t think ethic is a big thing And in fact we are not so poor - - we are not like the Korean guys
  • American government officials: It's wrong for the Chinese government to engage in mass surveillance Chinese government officials It's wrong for the American government to engage in mass surveillance. Principled people with actual ethics: It's wrong for *any* government to engage in mass surveillance.
  • funny how all those "Chinese hackers" who are so dumb that don't even know how to use a simple proxy to hide their IP addresses coincidentally began appearing at about the same time the US government decided China and Russia will be the new enemy. And now that China has stopped buying US treasure bonds I bet we will be hearing about new "Chinese hackers" every single day. coincidentally, NATO wants to do a conventional warfare against hackers, too. Whatta coincidence indeedy
  • What the hell is a "threat actor"?

    Why use jargon when "criminal" is a perfectly good word? And if this is a specific type of criminal, say a terrorist or a thief or the intelligence apparatus of a foreign country, then there are very descriptive and precise words for those as well. If it's corporate espionage, then "crook" works well, too.

    Why do people who use technology feel the need to create neologisms for the most mundane things? Just the other day, I saw someone from a news web site refer to an "art

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