Home » Russian APT groups continue to target Ukraine

Russian APT groups continue to target Ukraine

ESET Research released its latest APT Activity Report, which summarizes discoveries about select advanced persistent threat (APT) groups that were observed, investigated, and analyzed by ESET researchers between September and the end of December (T3) 2022.

During this period, Russia-aligned APT groups continued to be particularly involved in operations targeting Ukraine, deploying destructive wipers and ransomware. Goblin Panda, a China-aligned group, started to duplicate Mustang Panda’s interest in European countries. Iran-aligned groups continued to operate at a high volume, too.

In Ukraine, ESET detected the infamous Sandworm group using a previously unknown wiper against an energy sector company. Nation-state or state-sponsored actors usually operate APT groups; the described attack happened in October during the same period when Russian armed forces began

launching missile strikes targeting energy infrastructure. While ESET is not able to show that those events were coordinated, it suggests that Sandworm and the Russian military have related objectives.

ESET has named the latest wiper, from a series of previously discovered wipers, NikoWiper. This wiper was used against a company in the energy sector in Ukraine in October 2022. NikoWiper is based on SDelete, a command line utility from Microsoft that is used for securely deleting files.

In addition to data-wiping malware, ESET discovered Sandworm attacks using ransomware as a wiper. In those attacks, although ransomware was used, the final objective was the same as for the wipers: data destruction. Unlike traditional ransomware attacks, the Sandworm operators do not intend to provide a decryption key.

In October 2022, ESET detected Prestige ransomware being deployed against logistics companies in Ukraine and Poland. And in November 2022, ESET discovered new ransomware in Ukraine written in .NET that we named RansomBoggs. ESET Research publicly reported this campaign on its Twitter account. Along with Sandworm, other Russian APT groups such as Callisto and Gamaredon have continued their spearphishing campaigns against Ukraine to steal credentials and install implants.

ESET researchers also detected a MirrorFace spearphishing campaign targeting political entities in Japan and noticed a gradual change in the targeting of some China-aligned groups – Goblin Panda started to duplicate Mustang Panda’s interest in European countries. Last November, ESET discovered a new Goblin Panda backdoor, which we named TurboSlate, in a government organization in the European Union. Mustang Panda has also continued to target European organizations. Last September, we detected a Korplug loader used by Mustang Panda at an organization in Switzerland’s energy and engineering sector.

Iran-aligned groups continued their attacks, too – besides Israeli companies, POLONIUM also started targeting the foreign subsidiaries of Israeli companies, and MuddyWater probably compromised a managed security service provider.

North Korea-aligned groups used old exploits to compromise cryptocurrency firms and exchanges in various parts of the world. Interestingly, Konni has expanded the repertoire of languages it uses in its decoy documents to include English, which means it might not be aiming at its usual Russian and South Korean targets.

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