Security vendor Trend Micro has been tracking a hacking campaign called Luckycat that has been linked to 90 attacks, including some aimed at Tibetan activists, and has tied it to a group based in China, the company said in a report published on Thursday.
The Luckycat campaign, which has been active since at least June 2011, has been connected with attacks against targets in Japan and India as well, according to Trend Micro. Industries targeted include military research, aerospace and energy, it said.
To avoid detection, the hackers used a diverse set of infrastructure and anonymity tools. Each attack used a unique campaign code to track which victims were compromised by which malware, illustrating that the attackers were both very aggressive and continually targeted intended victims with several waves of malware, according to Trend Micro's report.
The security company was able to connect an email address used to register one of the group's command-and-control servers to a hacker in the Chinese underground community.
The hacker has been using aliases "dang0102" or "scuhkr" and has been linked to the Information Security Institute of the Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, where he was involved in a research project on network attack and defense.
The person behind the aliases and the email address is Gu Kaiyuan, who is now apparently an employee at Tencent, China's leading Internet portal company, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
There are more signs pointing to China as the origin of the Luckycat campaign. The language settings of the attackers' computers indicate that they are Chinese speakers, according to Trend Micro. The work done by the hacker group was first documented earlier this month by Symantec, which showed that the hackers used IP addresses allocated to China, Trend Micro said.
The targeted nature of the attacks is no isolated occurrence. The number of targeted attacks has dramatically increased, Trend Micro said.
To better protect themselves, enterprises need to use a mixture of technology and education, according to Trend Micro. Apart from patch management, endpoint and network security, enterprises should also focus on detecting and mitigating attacks, the company said.
But an enterprise's defense is only as good as its employees. People trained to expect targeted attacks are better positioned to report potential threats and can become an important source of threat intelligence.