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Microsoft sheds light on a year of Russian hybrid warfare in Ukraine

Russia-linked threat actors targeted at least 17 European nations in 2023, and 74 countries since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

Microsoft revealed that Russia-linked threat actors targeted at least 17 European nations between January and mid-February 2023. According to a report published by the IT giant, the state-sponsored hackers have targeted 74 countries since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. The cyber espionage operations aimed at government and defense-related organizations in Central and Eastern Europe and the Americas.

“Between January and mid-February 2023, Microsoft threat intelligence analysts have found indications of Russian threat activity against organizations in at least 17 European nations, with the government sector the most targeted.” reads the report published by Microsoft. “While these actions are most likely intended to boost intelligence collection against organizations providing political and material support to Ukraine, they could also, if directed, inform destructive operations.”

The report also states that the Russia-linked APT group IRIDIUM appears to be preparing for a renewed destructive campaign. The group could target Ukraine with destructive malware such as Foxblade and Caddywiper. The experts also reported that as of late 2022, the state actor may also have been testing additional malware with similar capabilities in destructive attacks on organizations outside Ukraine that serve key functions in Ukraine’s supply lines.

Sandworm (aka BlackEnergy and TeleBots) has been active since 2000, it operates under the control of Unit 74455 of the Russian GRU’s Main Center for Special Technologies (GTsST).

The group is also the author of the NotPetya ransomware that hit hundreds of companies worldwide in June 2017, causing billions worth of damage.

In April, Sandworm targeted energy facilities in Ukraine with a new strain of the Industroyer ICS malware (INDUSTROYER2) and a new version of the CaddyWiper wiper.

The APT hacking group is believed to have been behind numerous attacks this year, including an attack on Ukrainian energy infrastructure and the deployment of a persistent botnet called “Cyclops Blink” dismantled by the US government in April.

The most targeted countries since February 2022 are the United States (21%), followed by Poland (10%) and the UK (9%).  The most targeted sectors outside Ukraine since Feb 2022 are government, IT/communications, and Think Tank/NGO.

Russia-linked APT groups attack Ukraine war

“Within the 74 countries targeted by Russian threat actors between February 23, 2022 and February 7 of this year, Russian threat actors were most interested in government and IT sector organizations, just as they were in Ukraine. Several actors compromise IT firms to exploit trusted technical relationships and gain access to those firms’ clients in government, policy, and other sensitive organizations.” continues the report.

Microsoft reported that common tactics and techniques adopted by Russia-linked actors to breach the target networks have included the exploitation of internet-facing applications, backdoored pirated software, and ubiquitous spearphishing.

“Should Russia suffer more setbacks on the battlefield, Russian actors may seek to expand their targeting of military and humanitarian supply chains by pursuing destructive attacks beyond Ukraine and Poland. These possible cyberattacks, should the last year’s pattern continue, may incorporate newer destructive malware variants as well.Should Russia suffer more setbacks on the battlefield, Russian actors may seek to expand their targeting of military and humanitarian supply chains by pursuing destructive attacks beyond Ukraine and Poland.” concludes the report. “These possible cyberattacks, should the last year’s pattern continue, may incorporate newer destructive malware variants as well.”

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Ukraine)

The post Microsoft sheds light on a year of Russian hybrid warfare in Ukraine appeared first on Security Affairs.

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