Investigators said they have identified a secretive hacking group that has spent years systematically targeting US partners in the space and satellite industry, most likely on behalf of the Chinese military.
The group typically gains a foothold in sensitive networks by attaching booby-trapped documents to e-mails, according to a 62-page report published Monday by Crowdstrike, a firm that conducts forensic investigations on behalf of customers who have suffered security breaches. When employees click on the documents, the attackers are able to gain control over their PCs. The attackers then use the PCs to take control of servers housing blueprints, customer lists, or other sensitive data. The group, dubbed as Putter Panda, is connected to Unit 61486 of the People Liberation Army's (PLA's) Third General Staff Department, according to the report.
"Putter Panda is a determined adversary group, conducting intelligence-gathering operations targeting the Government, Defense, Research, and Technology sectors in the United States, with specific targeting of the US Defense and European satellite and aerospace industries," Crowdstrike researchers wrote. "The PLA ’s GSD Third Department is generally acknowledged to be China’s premier Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis agency, and the 12th Bureau Unit 61486, headquartered in Shanghai, supports China’s space surveillance network."