Vietnamese Threat Actors APT32 Targeting Wuhan Government and Chinese Ministry of Emergency Management in Latest Example of COVID-19 Related Espionage

From at least January to April 2020, suspected Vietnamese actors
APT32 carried out intrusion campaigns against Chinese targets that
Mandiant Threat Intelligence believes was designed to collect
intelligence on the COVID-19 crisis. Spear phishing messages were sent
by the actor to China’s Ministry of Emergency Management as well as
the government of Wuhan province, where COVID-19 was first identified.
While targeting of East Asia is consistent with the activity
we’ve previously reported on APT32
, this incident, and other
publicly reported intrusions, are part of a global increase in cyber
espionage related to the crisis, carried out by states desperately
seeking solutions and nonpublic information.

Phishing Emails with Tracking Links Target Chinese Government

The first known instance of this campaign was on Jan. 6, 2020, when
APT32 sent an email with an embedded tracking link (Figure 1) to
China’s Ministry of Emergency Management using the sender address
lijianxiang1870@163[.]com and the subject 第一期办公设备招标结果报告 (translation:
Report on the first quarter results of office equipment bids). The
embedded link contained the victim’s email address and code to report
back to the actors if the email was opened.

Figure 1: Phishing email to China’s
Ministry of Emergency Management

Mandiant Threat Intelligence uncovered additional tracking URLs that
revealed targets in China’s Wuhan government and an email account also
associated with the Ministry of Emergency Management.

  • libjs.inquirerjs[.]com/script/<VICTIM>
  • libjs.inquirerjs[.]com/script/<VICTIM>
  • m.topiccore[.]com/script/<VICTIM>
  • m.topiccore[.]com/script/<VICTIM>
  • libjs.inquirerjs[.]com/script/<VICTIM>

The libjs.inquirerjs[.]com domain was used in December as a command
and control domain for a METALJACK phishing campaign likely targeting
Southeast Asian countries.

Additional METALJACK Activity Suggests Campaigns Targeting Mandarin
Speakers Interested in COVID-19

APT32 likely used COVID-19-themed malicious attachments against
Chinese speaking targets. While we have not uncovered the full
execution chain, we uncovered a METALJACK loader displaying a
Chinese-Language titled COVID-19 decoy document while launching its payload.

When the METALJACK loader, krpt.dll (MD5:
d739f10933c11bd6bd9677f91893986c) is loaded, the export
“_force_link_krpt” is likely called. The loader executes one
of its embedded resources, a COVID-themed RTF file, displaying the
content to the victim and saving the document to %TEMP%.

The decoy document (Figure 2) titled 冠状病毒实时更新:中国正在追踪来自湖北的旅行者, MD5:
c5b98b77810c5619d20b71791b820529 (Translation: COVID-19 live updates:
China is currently tracking all travelers coming from Hubei Province)
displays a copy of a New York Times article to the victim.

Figure 2: COVID-themed decoy document

The malware also loads shellcode in an additional resource, MD5:
a4808a329b071a1a37b8d03b1305b0cb, which contains the METALJACK
payload. The shellcode performs a system survey to collect the
victim’s computer name and username and then appends those values to a
URL string using libjs.inquirerjs[.]com. It then attempts to call out
to the URL. If the callout is successful, the malware loads the
METALJACK payload into memory.

It then uses vitlescaux[.]com for command and control.


The COVID-19 crisis poses an intense, existential concern to
governments, and the current air of distrust is amplifying
uncertainties, encouraging intelligence collection on a scale that
rivals armed conflict. National, state or provincial, and local
governments, as well as non-government organizations and international
organizations, are being targeted, as seen in reports.
Medical research has been targeted as well, according to public
by a Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI. Until this
crisis ends, we anticipate related cyber espionage will continue to
intensify globally.









Email Address



MD5: d739f10933c11bd6bd9677f91893986c





Decoy Document (Not

Detecting the Techniques


Signature Name

Endpoint Security

Network Security

Trojan.Apost.FEC3, fe_ml_heuristic

Email Security

Trojan.Apost.FEC3, fe_ml_heuristic



Mandiant Security Validation Actions

  • A150-096 – Malicious File Transfer – APT32, METALJACK,
  • A150-119 – Protected Theater – APT32, METALJACK
  • A150-104 – Phishing Email – Malicious Attachment,
    APT32, Contact Information Lure

MITRE ATT&CK Technique Mapping



Initial Access

Spearphishing Attachment (T1193),
Spearphising Link (T1192)


Regsvr32 (T1117), User Execution

Defense Evasion

Regsvr32 (T1117)

Command and Control

Standard Cryptographic Protocol
(T1032), Custom Command and Control Protocol (T1094)