In recent weeks thousands documents have been released online by a hacktivist going by the online moniker of "Hardcore Charlie." These documents appear to have potentially been sourced and possibly stolen from various businesses and governments in different countries including the United States, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and others. In particular Hardcore Charlie has been attempting to draw attention to some of the documents that apparently relate to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. The twist in all of this is that the documents are purported to have been stolen by Hardcore Charlie from the Beijing based military contractor China National Import & Export Corp (CEIEC). If true, that would mean that the documents were stolen at least twice. These are allegations that CEIEC has strongly denied and condemned in a post on their website.
This entire turn of events has raised more questions than they have answered. Are the documents legitimate? Where were they original stolen from? If these were really stolen twice, who stole them first? We unfortunately do not have the answer to any of these questions. However, one thing we do have are words of caution and some interesting information about a handful of the documents found in this dump. Within the document dump in a folder related to Vietnam are 11 malicious documents (8 unique) that exploit vulnerabilities (CVE-2010-3333 and CVE-2009-3129) in Microsoft Office to install malware. These documents installed four different types of backdoors that reported back to six distinct command and control servers. Two of the backdoors were unfamiliar to us and the other two were the well known Poison Ivy RAT and the Enfal/Lurid. At least one hostname could be tied back to a known set of persistent actors engaged in cyber espionage.
Vietnamese Targeting and Timeline
These nine unique samples from the document dump from Hardcore Charlie appear to lead to multiple different attack campaigns targeting Vietnamese interests. The malicious documents have Vietnamese names and will open legitimate clean versions of the documents in Vietnamese upon successful exploitation. At least one of the trojan samples even saves itself as a file that might blend in on a Vietnamese computer. Another has strings related to the Vietnamese version of Google, while another uses a DNS name that is in Vietnamese as well. We would suspect this may just be the tip of the ice berg.
As for timing -- several indicators seem to point to these documents being approximately a year old. The most obvious and more tamper proof piece of evidence being a VirusTotal submission from April 2011. You may note the document from this submission was named BC cua chi binh voi BCS.doc. However, this file has the same MD5 hash of of32f5ad4f09135fcdde86ecd4c466a993, which matches the file was saw named Danh sach.doc. This indicates that his activity is not new and these files may have been unknowingly included in this document dump
These malicious documents within the data dump raise several questions and can lead to plenty of speculation. Were these malicious documents resident on victim systems from previous targeted APT campaigns and exfiltrated alongside the legitimate documents as part of another cyber espionage operation? Could it be that they were intentionally placed into this data dump? Anything is possible and we do not have all the answers. However, we can tell you that a few of the malware samples had previously been submitted to VirusTotal in early 2011. Additionally meta data of the clean documents dropped by a few of the malware payloads showed that the documents were also created in 2011, indicating that the malicious documents have likely been circulating in the wild for more than year.
Although many questions remain, the following facts are clear:
- A small subset of the documents contained in the purported CEIEC dump are malicious.
- These malicious documents drop a mix of malware families including Poison Ivy, Enfal/Lurid and two unnamed families.
- Some of the malware samples extracted from the CEIEC dump connect to infrastructure used in previous APT campaigns.
These documents just go to show that malicious files can end up pretty much anywhere. We are stating the obvious but remember to exercise caution when viewing files you downloaded from the Internet. Microsoft patched the two vulnerabilities used in these attacks quite some time ago. They patched CVE-2009-3129 with MS09-067 and CVE-2010-3333 with MS10-087. Malicious documents that exploit vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat [Reader], or components loaded by these pieces of software are still some of the most common ways in which cyber espionage attacks are conducted. Staying current with the latest versions and security patches for any software you run is highly recommended.