Operation Soft Cell: threat actors are stealing years of call records from hacked telecommunication providers

Security researchers from Cybereason have uncovered a massive espionage campaign involving the theft of call records from hacked cell network providers to conduct targeted surveillance on individuals of interest.

The hackers have systematically broken in to more than 10 cell networks around the world to date over the past seven years to obtain massive amounts of call records — including times and dates of calls, and their cell-based locations — on at least 20 individuals.

Attackers could also track the physical location of any customer of the hacked telcos — including spies and politicians — using the call records.

In 2018, 30% of the telecommunications providers reported sensitive customer information was stolen due to an attack. These telecommunications providers have been expanding in size, to the point where In the past thirteen years, mobile cellular phone subscribers have quadrupled in size and sit at 8 billion subscribers today. Due to their wide availability and the fundamental service they bring, telecommunications providers have become critical infrastructure for the majority of world powers.

Much like telecommunication providers, many other critical infrastructure organizations provide a valuable targets for nation state threat actors, due to their high impact. In studies, nearly a quarter of critical infrastructure organizations reported they had been hit by nation state attacks and 60% said disruptive cyber attacks are among the threats they are most worried about.
Threat actors, especially those at the level of nation state, are seeking opportunities to attack these organizations, conducting elaborate, advanced operations to gain leverageseize strategic assets, and collect information. When successful, these attacks often have huge implications.
Last year, we identified a threat actor that has been operating in telecommunications provider environments for at least two years. We performed a post-incident review of the attacks and were able to identify changes in the attack patterns along with new activity every quarter.
The threat actor mainly sought to obtain CDR data (call logs, cell tower locations, etc.) belonging to specific individuals from various countries. This type of targeted cyber espionage is usually the work of nation state threat actors.

We’ve concluded with a high level of certainty that the threat actor is affiliated with China and is likely state sponsored. The tools and techniques used throughout these attacks are consistent with several Chinese threat actors, such as APT10, a threat actor believed to operate on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS).

https://www.cybereason.com/blog/operation-soft-cell-a-worldwide-campaign-against-telecommunications-providers

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