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In January, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released an Alert (AA22-011A) outlining the risk of Russian state-sponsored threats on the US. What’s playing out now is a culmination of tested Russian cyber tactics developed through state-sponsored and cybercriminal organizations which operated within friendly territories for years with impunity.
Although the global community began to condemn the invasion, countering with sanctions and financial expulsion, it has only emboldened cybercriminals that pledge loyalty to Putin’s actions to target these nations with cyberattacks. Their pedigree includes the ability to maintain an undetected persistent and long-term access to compromised environments across networks, devices, and cloud services.
The primary objective of these cyberattacks is to disrupt critical business operations by compromising third-party and supply chain infrastructure, deploying custom malware (including ransomware) and leveraging Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
These tactics and capabilities were leveraged against Ukrainian banks, government services and media outlets.
Based on an updated list of known vulnerabilities linked to Russian cybercriminal syndicates and lessons learned during counter offenses against Russian threat actors, eSentire’s Threat Response Unit (TRU) and 24/7 Security Operations team have conducted over 67,000 threat hunts across 2,000 clients, discovered a handful of active malware attacks, and added over 2,000 indicators of compromise (IoCs).
In an ironic turn of events, one of the most prolific ransomware gangs, Conti, appears to be in a civil war of its own. Having initially pledged allegiance to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, 13 months of chat logs between affiliates of Conti were leaked and published with the message “Glory to Ukraine”. The shared conversations expose the ransomware gang’s operations and tactics used to develop defense-evading malware, including using fake companies to arrange meetings with prominent cybersecurity firms.
When it comes to preparing for the potential aftershocks of geopolitical events and economic sanctions, the first step is to understand your adversary and their tactics. Russian-aligned cybercrime groups employ clever phishing campaigns and poisoned search results to harvest credentials and gain initial access to targeted organizations.
In fact, eSentire TRU discovered a prominent ransomware gang using SEO poisoning to spread the GootLoader malware through third-party websites that hosted infected downloadable resources like templates and contracts designed to attract executives from various business services.
These cybercriminal groups establish persistent access through remote access tools and leverage vulnerabilities in unpatched FortiGate, Cisco, Oracle, Pulse, Citrix, and Microsoft Exchange services to move in and out of the environment undetected.
Their ultimate goals vary. Once they have established persistent access to your environment, they can disable back-up systems and deploy ransomware to disrupt operations, use wipers to permanently destroy data as a scorched earth tactic, or use DDoS attacks to bombard websites with erroneous requests to overload servers and shut down public facing services.
Long-term persistence gives your organization time to detect and stop unauthorized access before it becomes terminal. So, the reality is that many of the cyberattacks attributed to Russian agents could have been stopped before they crippled business operations. Here are a few recommendations:
Even after weeks of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, there is no sign of resolution. Ultimately, your goal is to put your business ahead of disruption. Increase your organization’s vigilance to strengthen your cyber resilience.
eSentire is the Authority in Managed Detection and Response, protecting the critical data and applications of 1500+ organizations in 80+ countries from known and unknown cyber threats. Founded in 2001, the company’s mission is to hunt, investigate and stop cyber threats before they become business disrupting events. Combining cutting-edge machine learning XDR technology, 24/7 Threat Hunting, and proven security operations leadership, eSentire mitigates business risk, and enables security at scale. The Team eSentire difference means enterprises are protected by the best in the business with a named Cyber Risk Advisor, 24/7 access to SOC Cyber Analysts & Elite Threat Hunters, and industry-leading threat intelligence research from eSentire’s Threat Response Unit (TRU). eSentire provides Managed Risk, Managed Detection and Response and Incident Response services. For more information, visit www.esentire.com and follow @eSentire.