France ties Russia’s Sandworm to a multiyear hacking spree

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 army hackers often called Sandworm, answerable for the whole lot from blackouts in Ukraine to NotPetya, essentially the most harmful malware in historical past, do not have a popularity for discretion. However a French safety company now warns that hackers with instruments and strategies it hyperlinks to Sandworm have stealthily hacked targets in that nation by exploiting an IT monitoring device 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 army intelligence company, had breached a number of French organizations. The company describes these victims as “largely” IT companies and notably Net-hosting firms. 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, bought by the agency of the identical identify primarily based in Paris.

Although ANSSI says it hasn’t been capable of establish how these servers had been hacked, it discovered on them two totally different items of malware: one publicly out there backdoor referred to as PAS, and one other often called Exaramel, which Slovakian cybersecurity agency Eset has noticed Sandworm utilizing in earlier intrusions. Whereas hacking teams do reuse one another’s malware—generally 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 harmful 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. “Regardless that there is no recognized 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 aim 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 prospects 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 prospects spared

In an emailed assertion Tuesday, nevertheless, a Centreon spokesperson wrote that no precise Centreon prospects 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 prospects and companions to help them in verifying their installations are present and complying with ANSSI’s pointers for a Wholesome Data System,” the assertion provides. “Centreon recommends that each 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 trade instantly interpreted the ANSSI report back to counsel one other software program provide chain assault of the type carried out in opposition to SolarWinds. In an enormous hacking marketing campaign revealed late final yr, Russian hackers altered that agency’s IT monitoring software and it used to penetrate a still-unknown variety of networks that features no less than half a dozen US federal companies.

However ANSSI’s report does 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 kind could be made on this case.” In truth, 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 yr: the intelligence company warned Sandworm was hacking Web-facing machines working the Exim electronic mail shopper, which runs on Linux servers. On condition that Centreon’s software program runs on CentOS, which can also be Linux-based, the 2 advisories level to related habits throughout the identical timeframe. “Each of those campaigns in parallel, throughout a few of the identical time frame, had been getting used to establish externally going through, susceptible servers that occurred to be working Linux for preliminary entry or motion inside sufferer networks,” Slowik says. (In distinction with Sandworm, which has been broadly 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 neighborhood 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 community of France’s TV5 tv community, taking its 12 channels off the air. The subsequent yr, GRU hackers together with Sandworm carried out an electronic mail 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 vp 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 might be intelligence assortment, however Sandworm has a protracted historical past of exercise we’ve got to think about,” says Hultquist. “Any time we discover Sandworm with clear entry over a protracted time frame, we have to brace for affect.”

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