Russia-linked Sandworm APT compromised 11 Ukrainian telecommunications providers

Pierluigi Paganini October 17, 2023

Russia-linked APT group Sandworm has hacked eleven telecommunication service providers in Ukraine between May and September 2023.

The Russia-linked APT group Sandworm (UAC-0165) has compromised eleven telecommunication service providers in Ukraine between May and September 2023, reported the Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA).

According to public sources, the threat actors targeted ICS of at least 11 Ukrainian telecommunications providers leading to the disruption of their services.

“According to public sources, for the period from 11.05.2023 to 27.09.2023, an organized group of criminals tracked by the identifier UAC-0165 interfered with the information and communication systems (ICS) of no less than 11 telecommunications providers of Ukraine, which, among other things, led to interruptions in the provision of services to consumers.” reads the advisory published by the CERT-UA.

The Sandworm group (aka BlackEnergyUAC-0082Iron VikingVoodoo Bear, 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. In 2022, the Russian APT used multiple wipers in attacks aimed at Ukraine, including AwfulShredCaddyWiperHermeticWiperIndustroyer2IsaacWiperWhisperGatePrestigeRansomBoggs, and ZeroWipe. 

The attacks against the telecommunication service providers commence with a reconnaissance activity through a “rough” scan of the provider’s subnets (autonomous system) using typical set port scanning tools, such as masscan.

Sandworm were observed targeting open ports and unprotected RDP or SSH interfaces to gain access to the internet-facing systems. The attackers were also spotted attempting the exploitation of known vulnerabilities in the target systems.

The threat actors used various tools, including ‘ffuf’, ‘dirbuster’, ‘gowitness’, and ‘nmap.’ The CERT-UA also reported that the state-sponsored hackers used compromised VPN accounts that weren’t protected by multi-factor authentication.

“Note (!) that intelligence and exploitation activity is carried out from pre-compromised servers located, in particular, in the Ukrainian segment of the Internet. Dante, socks5 and other proxy servers are used to route traffic through such nodes.” reads the advisory.

Sandworm employed two backdoors, named Poemgate and Poseidon, in the attacks against the Ukrainian telecommunications providers.

POEMGATE is a malicious PAM module that is used by attackers to authenticate with a statically determined password and saves logins and passwords entered during authentication in a file in XOR-encoded form. Authentication data collected by POEMGATE can be used for lateral movement and other malicious activities on the compromised networks.

Poseidon is a Linux backdoor that supports a full range of remote computer control tools. The malware maintains persistence through Cron jobs.

In order to avoid detection and remove tracks of unauthorized access, the attackers used the WHITECAT utility.

At the final stage of an attack, the attackers were able to interfere with network equipment, as well as data storage systems. 

CERT-UA published Indicators of Compromise for these attacks and recommends reading the article “How to be responsible and hold the cyber front.”

In May, CERT-UA CERT-UA warned of destructive cyberattacks conducted by the Russia-linked Sandworm APT group against the Ukraine public sector.

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook and Mastodon

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Sandworm)

you might also like

leave a comment