Cyber-Threats Ascribed to Russia Crafted to Hunt Specific Data

Three cyber-espionage campaigns attributed to Russia each focuses on a different type of data collection, according to an analysis by data-intelligence firm Recorded Future.

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An analysis of three complex cyber-operations—all allegedly conducted by Russian-sponsored groups—has found signs of the underlying espionage organizations involved in the attacks, according to an analysis by data-intelligence firm Recorded Future.

The meta-analysis—which focused on three espionage campaigns known as Uroburos, Energetic Bear and APT28—collected reports and research published by security firms and news agencies, matched up data on the threats even if referred to by different names, and synthesized more complete pictures of the threats.

In the end, the data analysis highlighted that the three espionage campaigns all focused on different political goals, Christopher Ahlberg, CEO and co-founder of Recorded Future, told eWEEK.

“There is distinct targeting, and without the malware overlapping in the wild, (and that) indicates coordination at the strategic level,” he said. “We are not just looking at a bunch of criminals, throwing around attacks, but at an organized effort across three different collections, [or] campaigns, of malware.”

Since Russia’s cyber-attacks on the former Soviet state of Estonia in 2007, government analysts and security researchers have kept watch on Russian cyber-operations. In 2013, security firm Kaspersky Lab detailed a five-year operation, attributed to Russia and known as Red October. In 2014, three other major operations came to light—Uroburos, Energetic Bear and APT28—as well as some smaller operations, such as Sandworm.

Each of the major campaigns has a different focus, which is apparently managed well enough that they overlap very little, the report states.

“In examining each in combination, it appears each Russian malware group has been designed with different cyber objectives in mind,” Recorded Future stated in the report. “The three goals include using cyber-intrusions to conduct espionage, pre-position(ing) Russian access for future cyber-warfare, and to meddle and monitor geopolitical threats in Russia’s backyard.”

Energetic Bear targeted companies in aviation, defense, energy and industrial control. APT28, a name originally coined by incident-response firm Mandiant, targeted Eastern European governments and military organizations, the defense industry, and organizations and government of interest to Russia. Uroburos, also known as Snake, targeted governments, embassies, the defense industry, pharmaceutical companies as well as research and education institutions.

For each espionage operation, Recorded Future collected the names by which the campaigns were identified, the names of the tools used in each attack and how the attacks were delivered.

Even a simple issue such as the name of an operation is made more complex because security firms typically label each operation differently. For example, Energetic Bear, a named coined by security services firm Crowdstrike, is known as Crouching Yeti by Kaspersky, Koala Team by iSight Partners, and Dragonfly by Symantec. The sheer variety of names used for each operation has complicated analyses, Ahlberg said.

“If you are tracking the threats, all the different names and different analyses make it more difficult,” he said. “You have to be able to normalize the information and get the full picture.”

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...