China Cyber Threat Overview and Advisories
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s 2023 Annual Threat Assessment makes clear the cyber threat posed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC): “China probably currently represents the broadest, most active, and persistent cyber espionage threat to U.S. Government and private-sector networks. China’s cyber pursuits and its industry’s export of related technologies increase the threats of aggressive cyber operations against the U.S. homeland. . . China almost certainly is capable of launching cyber attacks that could disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines, and rail systems."
In this context, every organization must take urgent action to understand and address known tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by PRC cyber actors – including efforts to detect and prevent intrusions and respond to and recover from incidents, particularly by investing in the operational resilience of essential services. CISA and our partners in the U.S. government and around the world provide timely and actionable information about the PRC cyber threat to help organizations prioritize the most effective cybersecurity measures. As a starting point, organizations should:
- Review the Joint Cybersecurity Advisory on People's Republic of China State-Sponsored Cyber Actor Living off the Land to Evade Detection. This Advisory focuses on a tactic called Living off the land, or LOTL, a set of techniques used by cyber actors to maintain anonymity within IT infrastructures by abusing tools already present in the environment such as PowerShell, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), and file transfer protocol (FTP) clients. By using such native tools, this fileless attack makes it easier for cyber actors to sustain and advance attacks and evade detection from security teams. LOTL has been growing in use over the years by state-sponsored threat actors, cyber criminals, and penetration testing teams. In particular, CISA recommends that every organization take the following steps to reduce the risk of adversaries using LOTL techniques:
- Establish a security baseline of normal host behavior and user activity to detect anomalous activity on endpoints.
- Isolate privileged administrator actions and locations to a manageable subset of locations, where effective baselines of “where” and “who” can be established.
- Prioritize logging (e.g., command-line interface "CLI") and close and/or monitor high-risk ports (e.g., Remote Desktop Protocol, Server Message Block, File Transfer Protocol, Trivial File Transfer Protocol, Secure Shell, and Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning).
- Prioritize mitigation of Known Exploited Vulnerabilities, including those outlined in our joint advisory on the top Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) used since 2020 by PRC cyber actors.
- Urgently report potential malicious activity to CISA or the FBI:
- Sign up to receive CISA’s cybersecurity alerts and advisories for timely notification of emerging campaigns and incidents. Review earlier advisories on PRC cyber threats outlined below. CISA particularly recommends reviewing the following advisories:
- People’s Republic of China State-Sponsored Cyber Actors Exploit Network Providers and Devices for guidance on protecting against Chinese malicious activity affecting critical networks.
- Technical Approaches to Uncovering and Remediating Malicious Activity, which outlines steps to help organizations identify intrusions across their enterprise.
- Sign up for CISA’s free Vulnerability Scanning service to receive early warning when a vulnerability known to be exploited by PRC cyber actors or other malicious groups are identified on Internet-facing assets.
- Establish a relationship with a regional CISA Cybersecurity Advisor to access additional services, assessments, and guidance.
CISA and Joint CISA Publications
|September 27, 2023||Joint Cybersecurity Advisory: People's Republic of China-Linked Cyber Actors Hide in Router Firmware||U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with the Japan National Police Agency (NPA) and the Japan National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity (NISC) released joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA). The CSA details activity by cyber actors, known as BlackTech, linked to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The advisory provides BlackTech tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and urges multinational corporations to review all subsidiary connections, verify access, and consider implementing zero trust models to limit the extent of a potential BlackTech compromise.|
|May 24, 2023|
Joint Cybersecurity Advisory: People's Republic of China State-Sponsored Cyber Actor Living off the Land to Evade Detection
This Advisory focuses on a tactic called Living off the land, or LOTL, a set of techniques used by cyber actors to maintain anonymity within IT infrastructures by abusing tools already present in the environment.
For more information, see:
|October 6, 2022||CISA, NSA, and FBI released an advisory to provide the top Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) used since 2020 by People’s Republic of China (PRC).|
|June 7, 2022||CISA, NSA, and FBI released an advisory describing the ways in which PRC state-sponsored cyber actors continue to exploit publicly known vulnerabilities in order to establish a broad network of compromised infrastructure.|
|August 20, 2021||CISA, NSA, and FBI released an advisory describing Chinese cyber threat behavior and trends and provides mitigations to help protect the Federal Government; state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; critical infrastructure, defense industrial base, and private industry organizations.|
|July 21, 2021||CISA and FBI released an advisory providing information on a spearphishing and intrusion campaign conducted by state-sponsored Chinese actors that occurred from December 2011 to 2013, targeting U.S. oil and natural gas (ONG) pipeline companies.|
|July 20, 2021||CISA and FBI released an advisory to help network defenders identify and remediate APT40 intrusions and established footholds. See the July 19, 2021, Department of Justice press release.|
|July 19, 2021||CISA, NSA, and FBI released a joint CISA Insights to help leaders understand this threat and how to reduce their organization's risk of falling victim to cyber espionage and data theft.|
|March 03, 2021||CISA partners observed active exploitation of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Server products. This Alert includes tactics, techniques, and procedures and indicators of compromise associated with this activity. See the July 19, 2021 White House Statement.|
|October 1, 2020||In light of heightened tensions between the United States and China, CISA released an Alert providing specific Chinese government and affiliated cyber threat actor tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). The Alert also includes recommended mitigations to the cybersecurity community to assist in the protection of our Nation’s critical infrastructure.|
|September 14, 2020||CISA has consistently observed Chinese Ministry of State (MSS)-affiliated cyber threat actors using publicly available information sources and common, well-known TTPs to target U.S. government agencies. This advisory identifies some of the more common TTPs employed by cyber threat actors, including those affiliated with the Chinese MSS.|
|August 3, 2020||CISA, FBI, and DoD released a MAR describing Chinese government actors using malware variants in conjunction with proxy servers to maintain a presence on victim networks and to further network exploitation.|
|May 13, 2020||CISA and FBI issued a Public Service Announcement warning healthcare, pharmaceutical, and research sectors working on the COVID-19 response of likely targeting and attempted network compromise by the PRC.|
CISA provided a Webinar on Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors targeting managed service providers (MSPs) and their customers. This campaign is referred to as CLOUD HOPPER.
|October 3, 2018||These Alerts address the CLOUD HOPPER Campaign. Since May 2016, APT actors have used various TTPs to attempt to infiltrate the networks of global MSPs for the purposes of cyber espionage and intellectual property theft. APT actors have targeted victims in several U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including IT, Energy, Healthcare and Public Health, Communications, and Critical Manufacturing.|
|April 27, 2017||This Alert provides information on a campaign in which Chinese government cyber threat actors exploited trust relationships between IT service providers—such as MSPs and cloud service providers—and their customers. Chinese cyber actors associated with the Chinese MSS carried out a campaign of cyber-enabled theft targeting global technology service providers and their customers. The actors gained access to multiple U.S. and global IT service providers and their customers in an effort to steal the intellectual property and sensitive data of companies located in at least 12 countries.|