Cicada: Chinese APT Group Widens Targeting in Recent Espionage Activity

In several cases, the initial activity on victim networks is seen on Microsoft Exchange Servers, suggesting the possibility that a known, unpatched vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange may have been used to gain access to victim networks in some cases.

Once the attackers have successfully gained access to victim machines we observe them deploying various different tools, including a custom loader and the Sodamaster backdoor.
The loader deployed in this campaign was also deployed in a previous Cicada attack.

Sodamaster is a known Cicada tool that is believed to be exclusively used by this group.
It is a fileless malware that is capable of multiple functions, including evading detection in a sandbox by checking for a registry key or delaying execution; enumerating the username, hostname, and operating system of targeted systems; searching for running processes, and downloading and executing additional payloads.
It is also capable of obfuscating and encrypting traffic that it sends back to its command-and-control (C&C) server.
It is a powerful backdoor that Cicada has been using since at least 2020.

In this campaign, the attackers are also seen dumping credentials, including by using a custom Mimikatz loader.
This version of Mimikatz drops mimilib.dll to obtain credentials in plain text for any user that is accessing the compromised host and provides persistence across reboots.

The attackers also exploit the legitimate VLC Media Player by launching a custom loader via the VLC Exports function, and use the WinVNC tool for remote control of victim machines.

Other tools utilized in this attack campaign include:

RAR archiving tool – can be used to compress, encrypt, or archive files, likely for exfiltration.
System/Network discovery – a way for attackers to determine what systems or services are connected to an infected machine.
WMIExec – Microsoft command-line tool that can be used to execute commands on remote computers.
NBTScan – an open-source tool that has been observed being used by APT groups to conduct internal reconnaissance within a compromised network.

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