Russian BlackEnergy malware targeting European countries

Pierluigi Paganini September 24, 2014

Ongoing cyber espionage campaign based on BlackEnergy malware hit targets in Poland, Ukraine and Belgium. Experts at ESET and F-Secure firms analyzed it.

BlackEnergy malware is still in the wild representing a serious threat, a new ‘Lite’ version of the malware has been detected by experts at ESET security firm. BlackEnergy is a popular DDoS Trojan, gained notoriety in 2008 when it was reported to have been used during the conflict Russia-Georgia conflict, the malicious code was used to launch cyber attacks against the infrastructure of Georgia.

The BlackEnergy malware was authored by a Russian hacker and originally used for DDoS attacks, bank frauds and spam distribution, but the new variant was used in targeted attacks on government entities and private companies across a range of industries.

According to the report proposed by experts at ESET, the new strain of malware has been found targeting more than 100 government and industry organizations in Poland and the Ukraine, but the cases are not isolated, other attacks based on BlackEnergy hit a target in Brussels, Belgium, as reported by F-Secure.

F-Secure security adviser Sean Sullivan speculated that BlackEnergy detected in Brussels have been used in a targeted attack on the European Parliament or European Commission.

Experts Robert Lipovsky and Anton Cherepanov from ESET presented at the Virus Bulletin conference in Seattle the findings of their research, the malicious campaigns based on BlackEnergy malware started during 2014 and are still ongoing.

“A large number of state organizations and businesses from various industry fields in the Ukraine and Poland have been targeted in recent attacks. What would otherwise be a mundane scenario in today’s world of cybercrime is spiced up by the fact that the malware-spreading campaigns have leveraged the tense current geopolitical situation in Eastern Ukraine and the use of a malware family with a rich history. The most recent campaigns are dated August 2014.” states the blog post on VirusBulletin

According to ESET the campaign already hit hundreds of victims mainly located in Eastern Europe.

“We have observed more than 100 individual victims of these campaigns during our monitoring of the botnets,” Lipovsky said. “Approximately half of these victims are situated in Ukraine and half in Poland, and include several state organisations, various businesses, as well as targets which we were unable to identify.”

The same nations hit by BlackEnergy malware were already targeted by another cyber espionage campaign documented by F-Secure, dubbed CosmicDuke, which targeted dozens of computers at government agencies across Europe. The hackers exploited a security flaw in Adobe software, analyzing the logs from the command servers the security researchers discovered 59 unique victims in 23 countries.

F-Secure recently revealed that CosmicDuke was used in targeted attacks on private UK energy companies using the lure of a document about last week’s Scottish independence vote.

Blackenergy document_1

The term ‘LITE’ used to identify the new BlackEnergy variant, indicates that the malware is cheaper and with limited functionalities respect original strain. The experts noticed that the current version omits a kernel mode driver and doesn’t include the rootkit functionality used as an evasion technique in the past.

“Note that even the ‘regular’ BlackEnergy samples detected this year have evolved in such a way that the kernel mode driver is only used for injecting the payload into user mode processes and no longer contains rootkit functionality for hiding objects in the system. The light versions go a step further by not using a driver at all. Instead, the main DLL is loaded using a more ‘polite’ and ‘official’ technique – by simply loading it via rundll32.exe.” states the post published by ESET “The omission of the kernel mode driver may appear as a step back in terms of malware complexity: however it is a growing trend in the malware landscape nowadays.”

BlackEnergy LITE was spread through spear phishing campaign emails and decoy documents, it is being used for network discovery and remote code execution, and of course for syphoning data from the infected machines. In an attack discovered in April the threat actors used a decoy document titled “Russian ambassadors to conquer world”, exploiting the CVE-2014-1761 vulnerability in Microsoft Word, meanwhile during the last weeks they used specially crafted PowerPoint documents, unidentified Java vulnerabilities, and the remote control software Team Viewer.

“What makes these attacks interesting – aside from the tense current geopolitical situation in the region – is the various distribution mechanisms used to get the malware onto the victims’ computers,” Lipovsky said.

According to Sullivan BlackEnergy LITE is only the last discovery for Russian malware, let’s remind the CosmicDuke and Havex cases, however the BlackEnergy campaigns “might be a little less profit-motivated and more patriotically motivated”.

The expert also excluded the this specific campaign could be operated by state-sponsored hackers:

“It could be useful idiots,” Sullivan told us, “patriotic Russians hacking stuff for the sake of greater Russia.” Sullivan said. “BlackEnergy Lite may be more easily found if you have current security solutions,” “I think Lite is probably easy to detect in the lab environment. Unfortunately a lot of organisations still use very static, passive technology because they’re maintaining a firewall.” “It’s a big problem for business. Organisations that have an IT manager with a firewall he’s maintaining – they’re trying to fight it with one hand tied behind their back and wearing a blindfold.”

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – BlackEnergy malware, cyber espionage)

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