The Rising Dragon of Cyber Espionage


Published on Nov 9, 2023   —   2 min read

Chinese APTs: A Stealthy Cloud of Espionage Over Cambodia

Unit 42's latest findings have uncovered a Chinese APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) exploiting cloud backup services to mask malicious activities against Cambodian government organizations. These operations are believed to be tightly interwoven with China's strategic interests in Southeast Asia, especially considering the upcoming completion of China’s modernization project at Cambodia's Ream Naval Base​.

Malicious Masquerade: The Illusion of Legitimacy

The identified infrastructure, associated with malicious SSL certificates, operates under the guise of cloud storage services. The subdomains of these services, carrying names suggesting backup and file-sharing functionalities, have been used for data exfiltration, likely to lend credibility to the high volume of traffic during periods of active espionage​.

The Crosshairs of Cyber Espionage: Cambodia’s Critical Sectors

The Chinese APT has been pinpointing over two dozen Cambodian entities that span critical sectors including national defense, election oversight, and human rights, to name a few. The sensitive nature of the data within these sectors makes them prime targets for long-term espionage, potentially granting access to financial data, personal information of citizens, and classified government documents​.

Camouflaging Control: The C2 Infrastructure

The C2 (Command and Control) infrastructure identified by Unit 42 is suspected of running a Cowrie honeypot on specific ports to deceive network defenders. Moreover, the threat actors have implemented IP filtering to avoid detection by cybersecurity firms and IP scanners, underscoring the high level of operational security employed by the actors​.

The Workday Footprint: Timing the Espionage

Investigation into the activity patterns revealed that the APT's operations predominantly take place within standard business hours of China Standard Time, suggesting an attempt to blend into regular Cambodian business hours. Notably, a cessation of activities aligned with China’s Golden Week, indicating the threat actors are likely operating out of China​.

The espionage activities suggest a correlation with China's geopolitical ambitions in Southeast Asia. Cambodia's strategic importance to China's regional power projection, especially in the naval domain, is underscored by the targeted nature of these cyber operations​.

Fortifying Defenses: Recommendations for Protection

In response to these threats, Palo Alto Networks urges organizations to deploy robust network security through Next-Generation Firewalls, adopt security automation, and enhance container security. These measures are essential to defend against sophisticated APT tactics and maintain organizational integrity in a landscape rife with cyber threats.


In conclusion, the meticulous investigation by Unit 42 into Chinese APT activities in Cambodia reveals a clandestine campaign of cyber espionage, closely tied to China's geopolitical strategy. This operation, characterized by its sophisticated deception and targeting of critical governmental sectors, raises significant concerns about the security and sovereignty of nations within China's sphere of influence.

The cyber landscape calls for a heightened defensive posture, with advanced security measures and international collaboration to mitigate these threats. As global dynamics shift, the imperative for vigilance and advanced cyber defense mechanisms becomes increasingly clear to protect the integrity of national interests and maintain geopolitical balance.

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