For three years, Unit 42 has tracked a set of cyber espionage attack campaigns across Asia, which used a mix of publicly available and custom malware. Unit 42 created the moniker “PKPLUG” for the threat actor group, or groups, behind these and other documented attacks referenced later in this report. We say group or groups as our current visibility doesn’t allow us to determine with high confidence if this is the work of one group, or more than one group which uses the same tools and has the same tasking. The name comes from the tactic of delivering PlugX malware inside ZIP archive files as part of a DLL side-loading package. The ZIP file format contains the ASCII magic-bytes “PK” in its header, hence PKPLUG.
While tracking these attackers, Unit 42 discovered additional, mostly custom malware families being used by PKPLUG beyond that of just PlugX. The additional payloads include HenBox, an Android app, and Farseer, a Windows backdoor. The attackers also use the 9002 Trojan, which is believed to be shared among a small subset of attack groups. Other publicly available malware seen in relation to PKPLUG activity includes Poison Ivy and Zupdax.
During our investigations and research into these attacks, we were able to relate previous attacks documented by others that date back as far back as six years ago. Unit 42 incorporates these findings, together with our own, under the moniker PKPLUG and continue to track accordingly.