Research (Insikt)

Chinese State-Sponsored RedJuliett Intensifies Taiwanese Cyber Espionage via Network Perimeter Exploitation

Posted: 24th June 2024
By: Insikt Group®


From November 2023 to April 2024, Insikt Group identified cyber-espionage activities conducted by RedJuliett, a likely Chinese state-sponsored group, primarily targeting government, academic, technology, and diplomatic organizations in Taiwan. RedJuliett exploited known vulnerabilities in network edge devices such as firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs), and load balancers for initial access. The group likely operates from Fuzhou, China, aligning with its persistent targeting of Taiwan. RedJuliett’s activities likely aim to support Beijing's intelligence collection on Taiwan’s economic and diplomatic relations, as well as critical technology development.

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Chinese State-Sponsored RedJuliett Intensifies Cyber Espionage Against Taiwanese Government, Academic, and Technology Sectors

RedJuliett’s focus on targeting Taiwanese entities aligns with the group’s past activity. Insikt Group also observed RedJuliett expand its operations to compromise organizations in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Laos, South Korea, the United States, Djibouti, Kenya, and Rwanda.

In addition to targeting vulnerabilities in internet-facing devices, RedJuliett also used structured query language (SQL) injection and directory traversal exploits against web and SQL applications. Organizations should complement routine patching with defense-in-depth strategies focused on detecting post-exploitation persistence, discovery, and lateral movement activity to counter these threats. Organizations should also regularly audit internet-facing devices and reduce their attack surface where possible. RedJuliett closely overlaps with public reporting under the aliases Flax Typhoon and Ethereal Panda.

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Key Findings

  • Victim Organizations: RedJuliett compromised 24 organizations, including government organizations in Taiwan, Laos, Kenya, and Rwanda. The group also conducted network reconnaissance or attempted exploitation against over 70 academic, government, think tank, and technology organizations in Taiwan, as well as multiple de facto embassies operating on the island.
  • Exploitation Techniques: RedJuliett created a SoftEther VPN bridge or client in victim networks. Additionally, the group conducted reconnaissance and attempted exploitation activity using Acunetix Web Application Security Scanners. RedJuliett also attempted SQL injection and directory traversal exploits against web and SQL applications. Post-exploitation, the group used open-source web shells and exploited an elevation of privilege vulnerability in the Linux operating system.
  • Infrastructure: RedJuliett administers operational infrastructure using SoftEther VPN, leveraging both threat actor-controlled leased servers and compromised infrastructure belonging to Taiwanese universities.
  • Implications for Taiwan: RedJuliett's activities align with Beijing's objectives to gather intelligence on Taiwan’s economic policy, trade, and diplomatic relations. The group also targeted multiple critical technology companies, highlighting the strategic importance of this sector for Chinese state-sponsored threat actors.

Recommendations for Organizations

Organizations likely to be targeted by RedJuliett should adopt the following measures:

  1. Network Segmentation: Practice network segmentation by isolating internet-facing services in a demilitarized zone (DMZ).
  2. Security Monitoring: Ensure security monitoring and detection capabilities for all external-facing services and devices. Monitor for follow-on activities such as the use of web shells, backdoors, or reverse shells and lateral movement within internal networks.
  3. Review Public Guidance: Review public guidance on mitigating common TTPs used by Chinese state-sponsored groups and Insikt Group’s report on trends and recommendations for mitigating Chinese APT activity more broadly.
  4. Risk-Based Patching: Ensure a risk-based approach for patching vulnerabilities, prioritizing high-risk vulnerabilities and those being exploited in the wild, as identified by Recorded Future Vulnerability Intelligence.
  5. Prioritize RCE Vulnerabilities: Focus on addressing remote code execution (RCE) vulnerabilities in popular VPN, mail server, firewall, and load-balancing appliances, particularly F5 BIG-IP, Fortinet FortiGate, and ZyXEL ZyWALL devices.
  6. Malicious Traffic Analysis: Monitor Malicious Traffic Analysis (MTA) to proactively detect and alert on infrastructure communicating with known RedJuliett command-and-control (C2) IP addresses.
  7. Monitor Supply Chains: Use Recorded Future Third-Party Intelligence to monitor real-time output and identify suspected intrusion activities involving key vendors and partners.
  8. Threat Intelligence Extension: Install the Recorded Future Threat Intelligence Browser Extension for instant access to threat intelligence from any web-based resource, enabling faster alert processing within security information and event management (SIEM) and prioritizing vulnerabilities for patching.

Insikt Group anticipates that RedJuliett and other Chinese state-sponsored threat actors will continue to target Taiwan for intelligence-gathering, focusing on universities, government organizations, think tanks, and technology companies. Chinese state-sponsored groups are expected to continue their reconnaissance and exploitation of public-facing devices, a tactic that has proven effective in scaling their operations to gain initial access to a broad range of global targets.

To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.

Appendix A — Indicators of Compromise

Active RedJuliett servers as of May 21, 2024:
38.147.190[.]192 (since 2024-04-07)
61.238.103[.]155 (since 2024-02-23)
122.10.89[.]230 (since 2024-01-24)
137.220.36[.]87 (since 2024-05-09)
140.120.98[.]115 (since 2023-11-14)
154.197.98[.]3 (since 2023-11-14)
154.197.99[.]202 (since 2023-12-16)
176.119.150[.]92 (since 2024-04-01)

Known RedJuliett SoftEther TLS Certificates (SHA-1 Fingerprint)


Appendix B — Mitre ATT&CK Techniques

Tactic: Technique ATT&CK Code
Resource Development: Acquire Infrastructure: Virtual Private Server T1583.003
Resource Development: Compromise Infrastructure: Server T1584
Reconnaissance: Active Scanning: Vulnerability Scanning T1595.002
Initial Access: Exploit Public-Facing Application T1190
Persistence: External Remote Services T1133
Persistence: Server Software Component: Web Shell T1505.003
Privilege Escalation: Exploitation for Privilege Escalation T1068