Unit 61419 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is believed to be behind cyberattacks on multiple Japanese organizations, bought antivirus software from several major Western security companies, according to the procurement documents obtained by Recorded Future’s Insikt Group.
The purchases were made in 2019 through local intermediaries and included antivirus software from Kaspersky, Bitdefender, Trend Micro, ESET, Dr.Web, Sophos, Symantec, McAfee, and Avira.
“Insikt Group assesses that the purchase of foreign antivirus software by the PLA poses a high risk to the global antivirus software supply chain,” the researchers said pointing out that the Chinese government has not used foreign antivirus software for legitimate purposes since 2014, when it was banned.
Recorded Future says there are two possible scenarios for the PLA’s exploitation of foreign antivirus software:
Scenario 1: PLA cyber units and affiliated hacking groups will use foreign antivirus programs as a testing environment for natively developed malware. They will run the malware through foreign antivirus products to test its ability to evade detection, thereby making it more likely to successfully infect its targeted victims.
Scenario 2: PLA cyber units and affiliated hacking groups will reverse engineer the foreign antivirus software code to find previously undisclosed vulnerabilities. They will then use the newly discovered vulnerabilities in a zero-day attack for initial intrusion.
Last month, Japanese authorities opened an investigation into alleged cyber attacks thought to have been carried out by a hacker group working on behalf of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The attacks targeted nearly 200 companies and organizations in Japan, including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), research institutions, and defense-related firms.