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Nation-state hackers based in China recently infected a certificate authority and several government and defense agencies with a potent malware cocktail for burrowing inside a network and stealing sensitive information, researchers said on Tuesday.
The successful compromise of the unnamed certificate authority is potentially serious, because these entities are trusted by browsers and operating systems to certify the identities responsible for a particular server or app. In the event the hackers obtained control of the organization’s infrastructure, they could use it to digitally sign their malware to make it more easily slip past endpoint protections. They might also be able to cryptographically impersonate trusted websites or intercept encrypted data.
While the researchers who discovered the breach found no evidence the certificate infrastructure had been compromised, they said that this campaign was only the latest by a group they call Billbug, which has a documented history of noteworthy hacks dating back to at least 2009.
“The ability of this actor to compromise multiple victims at once indicates that this threat group remains a skilled and well-resourced operator that is capable of carrying out sustained and wide-ranging campaigns,” Symantec researchers wrote. “Billbug also appears to be undeterred by the possibility of having this activity attributed to it, with it reusing tools that have been linked to the group in the past.”