An APT with no name

An APT with no name

When the 7th July indictment was released naming two Chinese hackers affiliated with the Guangdong State Security Department, it grabbed our interest. Hackers… in China…working with the MSS. Sounds right up our street. But who are Li Xiaoyu (李啸宇) and Dong Jiazhi (董家志)? How do they conduct their activity? The indictment also mentions an unnamed MSS Officer 1. Who could this be? Let’s start with the named hackers…  


FBI wanted poster naming indicted hackers Li Xiaoyu (李啸宇) and Dong Jiazhi 董家志)

Former classmates, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi studied Computer Application Technologies at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) in Chengdu. Mr Dong and Mr Li are not individuals we have come across before in our investigations into Chinese APTs. However, we do love a challenge. So, we set about getting to work and decided to start in the city Li and Dong are based: Chengdu.

Our findings reveal a number of spurious science and technology companies linked to the indicted actors. A familiar pattern is once again emerging… 

Chengdu Shirun Technology Company Ltd (成都诗润科技有限公司)

Let’s start with Dong Jiazhi. There is very little to go on from the indictment. However, we know Chinese APTs follow a common blueprint: One of contract hackers and specialists, front companies and an intelligence officer. 

We know Mr Li and Mr Dong are the contract hackers. So we set about digging into their connections to front companies based in Chengdu. 

It turns out Dong has been investing in a company called Chengdu Shirun Technology Company Ltd. Specifically, 30,000RMB came from Dong, who invested in the company when it was registered. This roughly equates to $4,5000 or £3,500.


Registrant of Chengdu Shirun Technology Company Ltd: Dong Jiazhi

A deeper look into this company reveals its location is 16 Tongsheng Rd, Qingyang District, Chengdu. It also provides a contact number: 18828070461.

Interestingly, this is not the only company that is linked to this contact number. It seems a number of other companies in Chengdu also share this point of contact.

Chengdu Hanke Technology Company Ltd. (成都撼科科技有限公司)

This company shares the same contact number as Chengdu Shirun but lists this as an email contact (18828070461@139.com). Additional contact numbers (18980738906 and 18190696626) are also provided. 


Contact details for Chengdu Hanke Technology Company Ltd.

Even more interesting is the change record for the company. Prior to 2019, Dong Jiazhi was listed as the company contact.


Change record for Chengdu Hanke listing Dong Jiazhi on line 3

Chengdu Hanke doesn’t have much of a presence. The website domain 51409903.1024sj.com does not exist. However, we did come across a LinkedIn profile for someone who claims to be the project manager and lead programmer – a Kevin Lynx. Further digging did not reveal anything more on this person or the company. Kevin, if you are out there – feel free to get in touch…

Chengdu Xinglan Technology Company Ltd. (成都兴蓝科技有限公司)

It seems 18828070461 is a theme. The number from Shirun and the 139 email from Hanke was also used to register another Chengdu-based technology company: Chengdu Xinglan. 

So who is behind this company? Well, as we mentioned, it shares contact details with companies linked to Dong. And Mr Dong is mentioned as the company’s primary point of contact.


Company registration details listing Dong Jiazhi as a contact person for Chengdu Xinglan on line 2.

Furthermore, records show Li Xiaoyu as Chengdu Xinglan’s legal representative, CEO and Executive Director, having a 99% stake in the company. It seems the pair intertwined at University, and expanded together into their business ventures and criminal activity concealed by front companies based in Chengdu.  


Chengdu Xinglan, detailing the 18828070461 contact email and Li Xiaoyu as the company’s legal representative.  

Chengdulzy

Li and Dong haven’t learnt to mix things up – reusing the same email number for their multiple front companies. 

And once again, this number (18828070461) was used as the registrant contact number for a domain: ‘chengdulzy.com’.

The registrant of this domain? Dong Jiazhi. Unfortunately, we haven’t found out what this domain was used for, and it now appears to have been deleted. 

Chengdu’s many Science and Technology companies

We are finding a similar pattern to previous investigations. An overlap of numbers and emails linking to contract hackers (Dong and Li), and subsequently to a number of technology companies based in Chengdu. All with little to no online presence suggests – you guessed it – front companies. 

However, what about the individuals themselves? They clearly have been busy investing in, and creating multiple technology businesses within Chengdu to act as fronts for their hacking activity. But what else have they left on the internet for us to find? 

Oro0lxy

The handle used by Li, and named in the indictment provides a helpful starting point. A quick scan of the internet shows various accounts with this handle, most now defunct or empty but the majority pertaining to hacking forums, such as the Chinese Software Developers Network (CSDN).

It seems oro0lxy has had a long standing interest in ColdFusion, using this knowledge (according to the indictment) to develop vulnerabilities in support of his APT activity.


oro0lxy posts question on CSDN ColdFusion sub forum

In keeping with his interest in this vulnerability, Li was appointed moderator of a website for ColdFusion developers, CFwindow.com, in 2012. 

However, oro0lxy was later flagged for posting scams on CSDN.

QQ account links

Looking into Li and Dong’s QQ accounts, we attempted to identify their actions and any overlaps that were interesting or of note. According to leaked databases, QQ 3120988 was associated with the display name Li Xiaoyu, whilst QQ 191956463 had historically used the username Dong Jiazhi.

We also pulled out a number of QQ groups that crossed the two hackers profiles. Specifically their QQ accounts linking to university groups such as ‘Class of 2005, Class 5’ (2005 级5 班),‘Information Security Lab’ (信息安全实验室) and ‘Computer Applications Technology Class 2’ (计算机应用技术 2 班). 

These are historic but provide useful context for what we know about the pair. Get in touch with us if you have any further information or leads pertaining to these accounts.

So… we know that Li and Dong have been indicted as hackers working to the MSS. Contract hackers – check. 

We know that they set up a number of front companies based in Chengdu to shield their APT activity. Front companies – check.

And we know they have been working together for a number of years, having met at university and remained active on Chinese hacker forums. But who specifically is behind their activity with the Guangdong State Security Department? Who is MSS Officer 1?

Tune in next week to find out… 

#youknowwherethisleads

APT40 is run by the Hainan department of the Chinese Ministry of State Security

APT40 is run by the Hainan department of the Chinese Ministry of State Security

In our previous articles we identified a network of front companies for APT activity in Hainan and showed their links to Hainan University academic Gu Jian. Although it was difficult to find people who work for these companies we identified a number of individuals and concluded that this network of companies was actually APT40. One of the individuals we identified, Ding Xiaoyang, is the owner of a phone number used on job adverts under the name Mr Chen.

Ding Xiaoyang’s role

When we started we weren’t sure what Ding Xiaoyang’s role was.

So we ran the numbers. How many Dings are there likely to be in Haikou, Hainan, and would it be possible to identify a specific Ding Xiaoyang among them?

Continue reading “APT40 is run by the Hainan department of the Chinese Ministry of State Security”

Hainan Xiandun Technology Company is APT40

Hainan Xiandun Technology Company is APT40

You knew where this was heading.

In our previous articles we identified a constellation of front companies for APT activity in Hainan and a computer science specialist at Hainan University who is linked to one of the companies. We named the individuals that we could identify as working for these companies, including one that we know to be Hainan resident Ding Xiaoyang who had used his telephone number on a job advert using the name ‘Mr Chen’.

Having identified a network of interlinked technology and information security companies in Hainan, looking at other job adverts posted by the companies is illuminating…

Continue reading “Hainan Xiandun Technology Company is APT40”

Who is Mr Ding?

Who is Mr Ding?

We started by stating that Chinese APTs have a blueprint that us applied in multiple regions across China: contract hackers and specialists, front companies, and an intelligence officer. Applying this blueprint in Hainan, we surfaced inter-linked companies recruiting for people with hacking and specialist IT skills.

We have identified that Professor Gu Jian is connected to the front company Hainan Xiandun and supported some of their activities from his position at Hainan University. But his was more of a supporting role. Who was in charge?

Continue reading “Who is Mr Ding?”

Who else works for this cover company network?

Who else works for this cover company network?

In our previous articles we identified a network of front companies for APT activity in Hainan, and showed that Gu Jian, an academic at Hainan University, is listed as a contact person for one of these companies – Hainan Xiandun. Additionally, Gu Jian appeared to manage a network security competition at the university and was reportedly seeking novel ways of cracking passwords, offering large amounts of money to those able to do so. The registered address for Hainan Xiandun is the Hainan University Library.

Our analysts and contributors were reassured to know that this blog is not alone in being suspicious of these Hainan front companies. Questions abound online about why these companies have such a thin presence on the Internet or, as below, whether the jobs they are promoting even exist.

This Chinese post is titled “Hainan Yili Technology Company: How can you find this company on the Internet, can I trust this job advert?” and asks other users of the site for their views.

Continue reading “Who else works for this cover company network?”

Who is Mr Gu?

Who is Mr Gu?

In our previous articles we identified thirteen companies that this blog knows are a front for APT activity in Hainan. Following further analysis, we noticed a close association between these Hainan front companies and the academic world. Multiple job adverts for the the companies are posted on university websites. Hainan Xiandun even appears to operate from the Hainan University Library!

Continue reading “Who is Mr Gu?”

What is the Hainan Xiandun Technology Development Company?

What is the Hainan Xiandun Technology Development Company?

This blog has previously shown that by starting with an APT it is possible to identify the individuals and companies responsible for conducting their attacks and the State actors behind them. We have also shown that you can start with the State and work backwards to the APT.

APT groups in China have a common blueprint: contract hackers and specialists, front companies, and an intelligence officer. We know that multiple areas of China each have their own APT.

After a long investigation we now know that it is possible to take a province and identify front companies, from those companies identify individuals who work there, and then connect these companies and individuals to an APT and the State.

Continue reading “What is the Hainan Xiandun Technology Development Company?”

Encore! APT17 hacked Chinese targets and offered the data for sale

Encore! APT17 hacked Chinese targets and offered the data for sale

We started this story with Guo Lin (郭林), identified to us as an MSS Officer. We showed that he had personal links to a number of companies and individuals involved in Cyber security, at least one of whom helped develop a key tool used by APT17. We have also shown direct links between Guo Lin’s company Antorsoft and the Chinese Ministry of State Security.

But what were APT17 really doing? We know from media coverage in our part of the world that APT17 hacked a number of targets in the West and did untold damage. What isn’t well known is that they were also hackers for hire, acquiring data and selling it for profit.

Continue reading “Encore! APT17 hacked Chinese targets and offered the data for sale”

APT17 is run by the Jinan bureau of the Chinese Ministry of State Security

APT17 is run by the Jinan bureau of the Chinese Ministry of State Security

In previous articles we identified Jinan Quanxin Fangyuan Technology Co. Ltd. ( 济南全欣方沅科技有限公司), Jinan Anchuang Information Technology Co. Ltd. (济南安创信息科技有限公司), Jinan Fanglang Information Technology Co. Ltd. (济南方朗信息科技有限公司) and RealSOI Computer Network Technology Co. Ltd. (瑞索计算机网络科技有限公司) as companies associated with Guo Lin (郭林), a likely MSS Officer in Jinan.

We also identified two hackers from Jinan – Wang Qingwei (王庆卫), the representative of the Jinan Fanglang company and Zeng Xiaoyong (曾小勇) the individual behind the online profile ‘envymask’.

Continue reading “APT17 is run by the Jinan bureau of the Chinese Ministry of State Security”

Who is Mr Zeng?

Who is Mr Zeng?

In previous articles we identified Jinan Quanxin Fangyuan Technology Co. Ltd. (济南全欣方沅科技有限公司), Jinan Anchuang Information Technology Co. Ltd. (济南安创信息科技有限公司) and Jinan Fanglang Information Technology Co. Ltd. (济南方朗信息科技有限公司) as companies associated with Guo Lin (郭林), a likely MSS Officer in Jinan. We also identified an IT Security expert from Jinan, Wang Qingwei (王庆卫), as the representative of the Jinan Fanglang company. Another, potentially separate, individual goes by the name ‘iamjx’.

The identification of further individual in Jinan requires us to follow the trail from what we believe to be a fourth front company.

Continue reading “Who is Mr Zeng?”