Meet the hackers who break into Microsoft and Apple to steal insider info

In February 2013, Twitter detected a hack attack in progress on its corporate network. "This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident," a Twitter official wrote when disclosing the intrusion. Sure enough, similar attacks were visited on Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft in the coming weeks. In all four cases, company employees were exposed to a zero-day Java exploit as they viewed a website for iOS developers.

Now, security researchers have uncovered dozens of other companies hit by the same attackers. Alternately known as Morpho and Wild Neutron, the group has been active since at least 2011, penetrating companies in the technology, pharmaceutical, investment, and healthcare industries, as well as law firms and firms involved in corporate mergers and acquisitions. The developers of the underlying surveillance malware have thoroughly documented their code with fluent English, and command and control servers are operated with almost flawless operational security. The take-away: the threat actors are likely an espionage group in a position to profit on insider information.

"Morpho is a skilled, persistent, and effective attack group which has been active since at least March 2012," researchers from security firm Symantec wrote in a report published Wednesday. "They are well resourced, using at least one or possibly two zero-day exploits. Their motivation is very likely to be financial gain and given that they have been active for at least three years, they must be successful at monetizing their operation."

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