MustangPanda, aka Bronze President and TA416, has been active since at least 2012. This threat actor targeted government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, and even Vatican-affiliated religious institutions in the United States and Europe. Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Tibet, and Myanmar, were the main focus of the past campaigns. The group is notorious for creating phishing lures based on current events that might interest its target for example, Covid-19 pandemic, political subjects, and most trending issues like Russian-Ukrainian cyber warfare.
The Trojan application PlugX has been the most popular malicious implant utilised by Mustang Panda and is still the preferred spying weapon for the group. The recent Mustang Panda activity involves the use of DLL side-loading to deliver PlugX. The initial infection vector is an executable downloaded from a remote URL. The executable is responsible for installing the malware by dropping the required files (a DLL loader, a legitimate binary, and the PlugX payload) onto the system. The legitimate binary is the Adobe CEF Helper and is vulnerable to DLL side-loading. When the installer runs the legitimate binary, the dropped DLL is loaded. This DLL is the loader for the final payload. First, it reads a hardcoded .dat file that contains the XOR key for decrypting the final payload, then it performs the decryption and loads the malware into memory. Once running in memory, the PlugX payload is able to decrypt its configuration data, which includes its installation location, the XOR key for C2 communication, and any C2 addresses and ports.