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China Chopper still active 9 years later

By Paul Rascagneres and Vanja Svajcer.

Threats will commonly fade away over time as they’re discovered, reported on, and detected. But China Chopper has found a way to stay relevant, active and effective nine years after its initial discovery. China Chopper is a web shell that allows attackers to retain access to an infected system using a client side application which contains all the logic required to control the target. Several threat groups have used China Chopper, and over the past two years, we’ve seen several different campaigns utilizing this web shell and we chose to document three most active campaigns in this blog post.

We decided to take a closer look at China Chopper after security firm Cybereason reported on a massive attack against telecommunications providers called “Operation Soft Cell”, which reportedly utilized China Chopper. Cisco Talos discovered significant China Chopper activity over a two-year period beginning in June 2017, which shows that even nine years after its creation, attackers are using China Chopper without significant modifications.

This web shell is widely available, so almost any threat actor can use. This also means it’s nearly impossible to attribute attacks to a particular group using only presence of China Chopper as an indicator.

The usage of China Chopper in recent campaigns proves that a lot of old threats never really die, and defenders on the internet need to be looking out for malware both young and old.