France ties Russia’s Sandworm to a multiyear hacking spree

An agency logo hangs on an interior office window.
Enlarge / The brand of the French nationwide cybersecurity company Agence Nationale de la securite des systemes d’info(ANSSI) taken at ANSSI headquarters in Paris.

The Russian navy hackers known as Sandworm, chargeable for every part from blackouts in Ukraine to NotPetya, the most destructive malware in history, haven’t got a fame for discretion. However a French safety company now warns that hackers with instruments and methods it hyperlinks to Sandworm have stealthily hacked targets in that nation by exploiting an IT monitoring software referred to as Centreon—and seem to have gotten away with it undetected for so long as three years.

On Monday, the French info safety company ANSSI revealed an advisory warning that hackers with hyperlinks to Sandworm, a gaggle inside Russia’s GRU navy intelligence company, had breached a number of French organizations. The company describes these victims as “largely” IT companies and significantly Internet-hosting corporations. Remarkably, ANSSI says the intrusion marketing campaign dates again to late 2017 and continued till 2020. In these breaches, the hackers seem to have compromised servers working Centreon, offered by the agency of the identical identify based mostly in Paris.

Although ANSSI says it hasn’t been in a position to establish how these servers had been hacked, it discovered on them two completely different items of malware: one publicly accessible backdoor referred to as PAS, and one other referred to as Exaramel, which Slovakian cybersecurity firm Eset has spotted Sandworm using in previous intrusions. Whereas hacking teams do reuse one another’s malware—typically deliberately to mislead investigators—the French company additionally says it is seen overlap in command and management servers used within the Centreon hacking marketing campaign and former Sandworm hacking incidents.

Although it is from clear what Sandworm’s hackers may need meant within the yearslong French hacking marketing campaign, any Sandworm intrusion raises alarms amongst those that have seen the outcomes of the group’s previous work. “Sandworm is linked with damaging ops,” says Joe Slowik, a researcher for safety agency DomainTools who has tracked Sandworm’s actions for years, together with an assault on the Ukrainian energy grid the place an early variant of Sandworm’s Exaramel backdoor appeared. “Although there is not any identified endgame linked to this marketing campaign documented by the French authorities, the truth that it is happening is regarding, as a result of the tip objective of most Sandworm operations is to trigger some noticeable disruptive impact. We ought to be paying consideration.”

ANSSI did not establish the victims of the hacking marketing campaign. However a web page of Centreon’s web site lists customers together with telecom suppliers Orange and OptiComm, IT consulting agency CGI, protection and aerospace agency Thales, metal and mining agency ArcelorMittal, Airbus, Air France KLM, logistics agency Kuehne + Nagel, nuclear energy agency EDF, and the French Division of Justice.

Centreon clients spared

In an emailed assertion Tuesday, nevertheless, a Centreon spokesperson wrote that no precise Centreon clients had been affected within the hacking marketing campaign. As an alternative, the corporate says that victims had been utilizing an open supply model of Centreon’s software program that the corporate hasn’t supported for greater than 5 years, and it argues that they had been deployed insecurely, together with permitting connections from outdoors the group’s community. The assertion additionally notes that ANSSI has counted “solely about 15” targets of the intrusions. “Centreon is at present contacting all of its clients and companions to help them in verifying their installations are present and complying with ANSSI’s tips for a Wholesome Data System,” the assertion provides. “Centreon recommends that every one customers who nonetheless have an out of date model of its open supply software program in manufacturing replace it to the newest model or contact Centreon and its community of licensed companions.”

Some within the cybersecurity business instantly interpreted the ANSSI report back to recommend one other software supply chain attack of the sort carried out against SolarWinds. In an enormous hacking marketing campaign revealed late final 12 months, Russian hackers altered that agency’s IT monitoring software and it used to penetrate a still-unknown variety of networks that features at the least half a dozen US federal companies.

However ANSSI’s report would not point out a provide chain compromise, and Centreon writes in its assertion that “this isn’t a provide chain kind assault and no parallel with different assaults of this sort could be made on this case.” The truth is, DomainTools’ Slowik says the intrusions as a substitute seem to have been carried out just by exploiting Web-facing servers working Centreon’s software program contained in the victims’ networks. He factors out that this may align with one other warning about Sandworm that the NSA revealed in Could of final 12 months: the intelligence company warned Sandworm was hacking Internet-facing machines running the Exim email client, which runs on Linux servers. Provided that Centreon’s software program runs on CentOS, which can be Linux-based, the 2 advisories level to comparable habits throughout the identical timeframe. “Each of those campaigns in parallel, throughout a few of the identical time period, had been getting used to establish externally going through, weak servers that occurred to be working Linux for preliminary entry or motion inside sufferer networks,” Slowik says. (In distinction with Sandworm, which has been extensively recognized as a part of the GRU, the SolarWinds assaults have additionally but to be definitively linked to any particular intelligence company, although safety companies and the US intelligence group have attributed the hacking marketing campaign to the Russian authorities.)

“Brace for affect”

Though Sandworm has centered lots of its most infamous cyberattacks on Ukraine—together with the NotPetya worm that unfold from Ukraine to trigger $10 billion in injury globally—the GRU hasn’t shied away from aggressively hacking French targets up to now. In 2016, GRU hackers posing as Islamic extremists destroyed the network of France’s TV5 television network, taking its 12 channels off the air. The following 12 months, GRU hackers together with Sandworm carried out an email hack-and-leak operation meant to sabotage the presidential marketing campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Whereas no such disruptive results seem to have resulted from the hacking marketing campaign described in ANSSI’s report, the Centreon intrusions ought to function a warning, says John Hultquist, the vice chairman of intelligence at safety agency FireEye, whose crew of researchers first named Sandworm in 2014. He notes that FireEye has but to attribute the intrusions to Sandworm independently of ANSSI—but in addition cautions that it is too early to say that the marketing campaign is over. “This may very well be intelligence assortment, however Sandworm has an extended historical past of exercise now we have to contemplate,” says Hultquist. “Any time we discover Sandworm with clear entry over an extended time period, we have to brace for affect.”

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