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Do you smell a rat? Chinese based APT using new tactics against new targets

A suspected Chinese state-sponsored threat group named Gallium have begun using an upgraded Remote Access Trojan (RAT) against targets across the globe.

Nicknamed “PingPull”, the RAT is reported to be difficult to detect according to threat hunters at Palo Alto’s Unit 42 Cyber-Security analysts.

Gallium (also referred to as Softcell) threat actors have traditionally targeted telecommunications companies (often referred to as TelCos) since at least 2012, using tactics and tools with the objective of extracting data from within active directories, compromising usernames and passwords and other valuable personally identifiable information (PII) along with any call data, credentials and geolocations of the organisations’ users.

Gallium have been previously active against selected targets in Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe but have reportedly begun expanding from TelCos to financial services and government organisations.

Unit42 report evidence of PingPull shifting exploitation to organisations across Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Malaysia, Mozambique, the Philippines, Russia, and Vietnam.

It is the use of particular TTP’s and Chinese attributed malware, along with the groups proficiency and “sector-specific focus” that has led to the assessment that they are likely to be a Chinese state-sponsored group.

The RAT, dubbed “PingPull” by researchers, can make it more difficult to detect its command-and-control communications (C2) in part by leveraging the ICMP protocol, usually utilised by devices on a network to diagnose communication issues and/or send error reports.

Leveraging the use of ICMP is not a new technique but makes detection harder “as few organizations implement inspection of ICMP traffic on their networks,” the researchers report.

There are also PingPull variants that rely on different protocols for C2 operations, including HTTP(S), a method of data travelling between a web browser and a website, and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which enables programs and devices to exchange messages over a network.

Regardless of the variant, once a system is compromised and the “back door“ is set up, the malware mimics legitimate computer operations to try and blend into normal system activity and remain undetected.

The malware can perform a variety of activities, such as reading, writing and deleting files and copying and moving files, according to Unit42.

While the report doesn’t explain how the initial access to systems is made, the threat actor has previously been known to exploit internet-exposed applications to gain an initial foothold and then deploy a payload web shell to establish a back door with the host, thus allowing the arbitrary code to be sent through either ICMP, TCP or HTTP communication channels.

Over 170 IP addresses have been reported in terms of Indicators of Compromise for the group since 2020.

To see the list of IOCs and IP addresses from the last 30 days visit Palo Alto’s Unit42 full report.

Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups continue to be on the radar. They regularly update their tactics and techniques to remain a prominent and effective threat to organisations.


Systems Administrators are advised to check the IOCs and be aware of the potential threat posed by the leveraging of this new RAT.



Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).



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