Suspected Chinese Malware Found On U.S. Trade Group Website

Fidelis Cybersecurity uncovered the Scanbox script in advance of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States

2 min read
Fidelis Cybersecurity uncovered the Scanbox script in advance of Chinese President Xi’s visit to the U.S.
Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

A U.S. cybersecurity company has uncovered a malicious script on the website of the National Foreign Trade Council, a public policy and lobbying organization devoted to U.S. trade policy. And John Bambenek, threat intelligence manager for Fidelis Cybersecurity, whose team found the script, says he is “highly confident” the script was placed there by Chinese state-sponsored actors.

The script is a tool known as a Scanbox. It has, to date, been used only by groups widely known to be affiliated with the Chinese government. “There's no evidence that anybody else has commandeered or used [Scanbox],” Bambenek says.

The script provides information about a victim's operating system, IP address, and software programs, which attackers can later use in targeted phishing campaigns. For example, if attackers learn that someone is using a browser with known software holes, they may target that person with an exploit that the hackers know will work for the user’s particular version.

Fidelis believes this particular operation, which was observed between 27 February and 1 March, was conducted as espionage in preparation for Chinese president Xi Jinping's meeting with U.S. President Trump today and Friday. Bambenek believes the tool was being used to collect intelligence about trade policy rather than to steal trade secrets from U.S. companies.

Hidden within the National Foreign Trade Council’s site, the Scanbox script ran whenever a visitor navigated to a page with a registration form for an upcoming Board of Directors meeting. That means the script, which has been removed, likely targeted board members, many of whom are also from major U.S. companies.

Bambenek calls Scanbox “a fairly lightweight tool” that is primarily used for gathering information. Chinese groups have relied on it for reconnaissance since at least 2014. Once a victim closes the tab or browser in which Scanbox is operating, they are no longer affected.

Fidelis was alerted to the script when cybersecurity programs it had developed were automatically triggered by software that appeared to be Scanbox. Fidelis says it has shared the information about Scanbox with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.   

Mike Buratowski, vice president of cybersecurity services with Fidelis, says nonprofits and think tanks are increasingly targeted by state-sponsored attackers because they have access to privileged information and are in touch with government agencies.

“The reality is that almost every government in the world has think tanks and policy organizations, and all of these are really the soft targets of government,” Bambenek says.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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