Cybercriminals Exploiting Opportunities in Asia-Pacific Region

Blog
December 3, 2018

On Dec. 6, Senior Analyst Aaron Shraberg will be leading “Exploring the Asia Pacific Cybercrime Landscape,” a live webinar on cybercriminal activity in the region and what cyber defenders can do to mitigate the associated risks. RSVP for the webinar here.

Home to nearly half of the world’s internet users across dozens of economically, culturally, and linguistically distinct nations, the Asia Pacific (APAC) region has become a hub for cybercrime. The proliferation of various fraudulent schemes, along with several high-profile cases of compromised government and corporate databases, have put companies and large portions of the populace in APAC at risk for being the target of cybercriminal activity. The most prominent and significant cybercrime trends throughout the region include:

Carding and Cashing Out

Carding and cashing out—which are schemes that entail using stolen payment cards or card data to make fraudulent purchases, and then selling those purchases for profit—are commonly discussed topics among threat actors in Chinese-speaking Deep & Dark Web (DDW) communities. Recent and noteworthy discussions of this nature have focused on underground card shops such as Joker’s Stash, carding tutorials, and cryptocurrency cash-out schemes.

It is worth noting that the Chinese government has historically cracked down on the spread of information concerning carding and other associated activity. Analysts assess that the Chinese government’s efforts to increase its monitoring capabilities of online chatter, as well as threat actors’ fears of legal repercussions if found using compromised payment cards belonging to Chinese citizens, likely encourage Chinese threat actors to look to other DDW-language communities for knowledge, methods, and potential targets for their carding activity.

PII Breaches

Threads advertising the sale of personally identifiable information (PII) obtained from commercial and government entities are a relatively frequent occurrence on cybercrime forums in the APAC region.

Specifically, there appears to be a growing market for PII in the Chinese-language DDW, with one particular forum serving as a hub for such activity in recent months. After conducting an in-depth analysis of this forum in August 2018, Flashpoint analysts found that the majority of posts about buying and selling PII were related to PII sourced from companies in industry sectors including lottery, lending, securities, automobiles, banking, gambling, online shopping, cryptocurrency, and healthcare.

Forum members did not state explicitly how the advertised PII could be used, but such information—especially that which concerns a company’s employees or customers—can typically support a number of fraudulent schemes.

Phishing

Phishing is one of the most common ways threat actors obtain access to targeted internal networks, and it accordingly presents significant challenges to organizations in terms of education, mitigation, and response. In line with these observations, Flashpoint analysts discovered multiple threat actors discussing phishing and specific techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs), as they relate to the APAC region. Some examples of these discussions include the use of Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) servers for conducting phishing schemes, perceptions of the ease of attacking certain targets in APAC, and the creation of phishing websites in specific Asian languages.

For instance, in June 2018 a threat actor on a Russian-language hacking forum advertised access to SMTP servers. The actor specified that the server could be used to support phishing and other schemes and listed Singapore as one of the nations where such a server is located. The physical location of such a server could increase the perceived legitimacy of phishing emails that originate from it, because security systems and unwitting victims—especially those in Singapore—may recognize that the email was transmitted through a domestic server. Such circumstances could make human targets less suspicious of unsolicited emails.

Furthermore, analysts also uncovered instances of threat actors who speak Asian languages offering alleged source code for phishing websites. This type of source code can enable threat actors to organize phishing campaigns that, after making initial contact with potential victims, aims to lure them into visiting the illegitimate sites.

Assessment

As demonstrated by the disruptions and high-profile breaches of APAC countries’ governmental and commercial databases in recent years, the cybercriminal abuse of PII presents a material risk to individuals and organizations throughout the region. With a large portion of the APAC population at risk for further fraudulent activity, governments have responded with measures to mitigate and prevent more breaches and compromises of their citizens’ data.

But at the same time, the region faces a host of cyber threat actors with varying degrees of sophistication who use a diverse array of TTPs to disrupt governments and economic interests.

To some extent, the cybercrime landscape in APAC will likely be oriented in response to major geopolitical tensions among APAC nations or shifts in the domestic political environments within these nations. Notwithstanding policies to remedy vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure and a growing appreciation for the importance of cybersecurity in APAC, given the recent high-profile cybercrimes in the region and a comparatively high volume of attack attempts, Flashpoint analysts assess that similar compromises will likely occur moving forward.