Mustang Panda, a China-linked cyber threat group, has been identified in a cyber attack targeting a government entity in the Philippines. Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 reported on three campaigns in August 2023, primarily focusing on organizations in the South Pacific.
The attackers utilized legitimate software, including Solid PDF Creator and SmadavProtect (an Indonesian-based antivirus solution), to sideload malicious files. Furthermore, the threat authors creatively configured the malware to mimic legitimate Microsoft traffic for command and control connections.
The campaigns employed spear-phishing emails to deliver a malicious ZIP archive file containing a rogue dynamic-link library (DLL) launched using DLL side-loading techniques. This method allowed the DLL to establish contact with a remote server.
The Philippines government entity is believed to have been compromised over a five-day period between August 10 and 15, 2023. Mustang PandaMustang Panda, also known as Bronze President, Camaro Dragon, Earth Preta, RedDelta, and Stately Taurus, has been operating as a Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) since at least 2012, conducting cyber espionage campaigns globally.
In September 2023, Unit 42 also linked Mustang Panda to attacks against an unnamed Southeast Asian government, distributing a variant of the TONESHELL backdoor. The recent campaigns showcase Mustang Panda’s adept use of spear-phishing tactics, legitimate software exploitation, and evasive techniques like DLL side-loading.
Notably, the threat group has demonstrated persistence in conducting cyber espionage operations, remaining one of the most active Chinese APTs globally. These operations align with geopolitical interests of the Chinese government, underscoring the ongoing challenges posed by state-sponsored cyber threats.