THOR: Previously Unseen PlugX Variant Deployed During Microsoft Exchange Server Attacks by PKPLUG Group

While monitoring the Microsoft Exchange Server attacks in March 2021, Unit 42 researchers identified a PlugX variant delivered as a post-exploitation remote access tool (RAT) to one of the compromised servers. The variant observed by Unit 42 is unique in that it contains a change to its core source code: the replacement of its trademark word “PLUG” to “THOR.” The earliest THOR sample uncovered was from August 2019, and it is the earliest known instance of the rebranded code. New features were observed in this variant, including enhanced payload-delivery mechanisms and abuse of trusted binaries.

First discovered in 2008, PlugX is a second-stage implant that’s been used by Chinese cyberespionage group PKPLUG (aka Mustang Panda) and other groups. In addition to being used in multiple high-profile attacks over the years, including the significant U.S. Government Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach in 2015, PlugX is also known for its modularity and plug-in-style approach to malware development.

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Source: Palo Alto