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RedHotel Attack Infrastructure: A DNS Deep Dive

Since its discovery in 2019, cyber espionage group RedHotel has successfully stolen secret information from at least 17 target nations worldwide. Four years later, they haven’t stopped. Regardless of the many names the threat actors have become known as—Aquatic Panda, Bronze University, Charcoal Typhoon, Earth Lusca, or Red Scylla—one thing is for sure, they’ve successfully breached their targets aided by readily available attack tools.

AlienVault OTX compiled 46 RedHotel indicators of compromise (IoCs)—20 domains and 26 IP addresses—over the course of the group’s three years of operation. Threat Intelligence Platform, in an effort to identify other potential threat vectors, conducted an expansion analysis that led to the discovery of:

  • Four additional IP addresses five of the domains identified as IoCs resolved to, two of which turned out to be malicious based on malware checks
  • 38 additional domains that shared the dedicated IP addresses that played host to some domains identified as IoCs
  • 2,157 additional domains that started with the strings sibersystems, nhqdc, ngndc, itcom888, itcom666, cyberoams, caamanitoba, asia-cdn, 0nenote, officesuport, livehost, and liveonlin similar to some of the domains identified as IoCs, one of which was classified as malicious by a bulk malware check

A sample of the additional artifacts obtained from our analysis is available for download from our website.

IoC Facts

We began our analysis by subjecting the domains identified as IoCs to Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP) lookups. Those allowed us to uncover these WHOIS record findings:

  • The 20 domains were split between only two registrars—15 by Namecheap, Inc. and the remaining five by GoDaddy.com LLC.
  • Noting that RedHotel first reared its head in 2019, the hackers seemed to prefer using newly registered domains (NRDs) in their campaigns given that they were created between 2018 and 2023.

  • A majority of the domains identified as IoCs, 15 to be exact, were registered in Iceland, four in the U.S., and one in China.

Our TIP lookups also uncovered these IP geolocation results:

  • Most of the IP addresses (31%) were geolocated in China, followed by 27% in Singapore and 19% in Japan. The remaining 23% were distributed among the U.S., India, and South Korea.
  • G-Core Labs S.A., which accounted for 10 of the IoCs, led the top 3 Internet service provider (ISP) list. Kaopu Cloud HK Limited and The Constant Company LLC took the second spot with four IP addresses each. Anchnet Asia Limited and UFO Network Co. Ltd. rounded out the list with two IoCs each.

Next, we compared the IoCs’ registrant and geolocation countries and found that the domains and IP addresses only shared the U.S. and China as both registrant and geolocation origin. We can thus infer that the threat actors had a penchant for registering most of their domains in a remote country—Iceland—while using servers located nearer their homebase—in various parts of Asia.

IoC List Expansion Findings

To find potential RedHotel attack vectors that security researchers haven’t published yet, we first sought to determine if the threat actors used IP addresses other than those AlienVault already named. We found four, namely, 3[.]232[.]69[.]202, 34[.]193[.]242[.]162, 162[.]255[.]119[.]254, and 34[.]102[.]136[.]180, all geolocated in the U.S. TIP also revealed that two of them were malware hosts.

We limited the number of IP-connected domains by focusing only on those that resolved to dedicated hosts. Our search provided 38 unreported domains.

WHOIS record comparisons between the domains identified as IoCs and the IP-connected domains led to these discoveries:

  • Only one of the IP-connected domains—drigon[.]com—didn’t have redacted record details.
  • Ten domains shared GoDaddy.com LLC as registrar while another 45 were administered by Namecheap, Inc.
  • A total of 62 domains were created between 2018 and 2023—three in 2018, five in 2019, 12 in 2021, 14 in 2022, and 18 in 2023.
  • Two domains shared China as their registrant country, 44 shared Iceland, and 28 shared the U.S.

A closer scrutiny of the domains identified as IoCs enabled us to identify these unique strings:

  • sibersystems
  • nhqdc
  • ngndc
  • itcom888
  • itcom666
  • cyberoams
  • caamanitoba
  • asia-cdn
  • 0nenote
  • officesuport
  • livehost
  • liveonlin

They appeared in 2,157 other domains that could have ties to RedHotel. One in particular—livehost[.]space—was classified as a malware host and led to an index page.

Four of the strings on our list—0nenote, officesuport, livehost, and liveonlin—also alluded to connections to Microsoft products OneNote, Office, and Live. We thus compared their WHOIS details with that of microsoft[.]com and found that despite possible hints at links to the tech giant, none of them were publicly attributable to the company.

Like the IP-connected domains, we compared the string-connected properties to the domains identified as IoCs and found that the owners of a number of the string-connected domains left their personally identifiable information. Specifically:

  • 14 had unredacted registrant email addresses
  • 16 had unredacted registrant names
  • 15 had unredacted registrant organizations

We also discovered that:

  • Twenty domains shared GoDaddy.com LLC as registrar while another 20 were administered by Namecheap, Inc.
  • A total of 53 domains were created between 2018 and 2023—five in 2018, 10 in 2019, 12 in 2021, 10 in 2022, and 16 in 2023.
  • Three domains shared China as their registrant country, 20 shared Iceland, and 33 shared the U.S.

Our DNS deep dive into the RedHotel attack infrastructure uncovered findings, such as the fact that the threat group registered most of their domains in remote countries, favored using NRDs, and used two of the most popular registrars.

Our IoC expansion analysis, meanwhile, led to the discovery of three additional malicious web properties—two IP addresses and one domain—that could have ties to RedHotel.

If you wish to perform a similar investigation or learn more about the products used in this research, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Disclaimer: We take a cautionary stance toward threat detection and aim to provide relevant information to help protect against potential dangers. Consequently, it is possible that some entities identified as “threats” or “malicious” may eventually be deemed harmless upon further investigation or changes in context. We strongly recommend conducting supplementary investigations to corroborate the information provided herein.

By Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP), Enterprise-Grade Threat Intelligence APIs, Tools, and Services

Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP) offers easy to use threat intelligence tools, services, and APIs to get detailed information about hosts and the infrastructure behind them. Gathering data from different providers, utilizing our substantial internal databases (compiled for 10+ years), and also real-time host configuration analysis, our threat intelligence solutions provide an in-depth look at target hosts and are an essential addition to any threat detection toolkit.

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