Security Experts:

More Evidence Links Russia to DNC Attack

Several security firms have found evidence that the recent attacks against the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the formal governing body for the U.S. Democratic Party, were launched by Russia-linked threat groups.

Threat intelligence firm CrowdStrike, which assisted the DNC’s investigation and cleanup efforts, reported last week that its incident response team uncovered evidence tying the attacks to two previously known advanced persistent threat (APT) groups.

One of the groups is Russia-linked Cozy Bear, which is also known as CozyDuke and APT29. The actor is believed to have breached the DNC’s networks as far back as the summer of 2015 using an implant dubbed “SeaDaddy” and a PowerShell backdoor.

The second group, also believed to be operating from Russia, is Fancy Bear, aka APT28, Pawn Storm, Strontium, Sofacy, Sednit and Tsar Team. The actor reportedly targeted the DNC in a separate attack in April 2016 using a piece of malware dubbed X-Agent and a network tunneling tool called X-Tunnel.

CrowdStrike said it did not see any evidence that Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear had been collaborating or that they had known about each other’s operation.

Shortly after the security firm made its findings public, a hacker using the online moniker “Guccifer 2.0” took credit for the attack and started leaking documents stolen from the DNC. The hacker mocked CrowdStrike for reporting that the attack was carried out by sophisticated groups and claimed that it was “very easy” for him to breach the organization’s systems.

“Guccifer” is the nickname first used by 44-year-old Romanian national Marcel Lazar Lehel, who has been extradited to the United States after hacking the online accounts of several celebrities and politicians, including the email server used by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Guccifer 2.0 has set up a WordPress website and a Twitter account, which he has been using to release documents allegedly stolen from the DNC. On Monday, he threatened to leak a “dossier on Hillary Clinton” taken from DNC servers.

However, CrowdStrike is not the only security firm to point the finger at Russian government-backed actors for the attack on the DNC. Fidelis has conducted an independent investigation of the malware leveraged by hackers and confirmed CrowdStrike’s findings.

“Based on our comparative analysis we agree with CrowdStrike and believe that the COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR APT groups were involved in successful intrusions at the DNC. The malware samples contain data and programing elements that are similar to malware that we have encountered in past incident response investigations and are linked to similar threat actors,” Fidelis said.

ThreatConnect has analyzed one of the domains used by attackers for command and control (C&C) and discovered additional links to Fancy Bear.

In March, the SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit (CTU), which tracks Fancy Bear as Threat Group-4127 (TG-4127), observed a spear-phishing campaign that leveraged Bit.ly shortened links to target email accounts connected to the upcoming presidential election in the United States, including accounts belonging to individuals working for or associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC.

“CTU researchers do not have evidence that these spearphishing emails are connected to the DNC network compromise that was revealed on June 14. However, a coincidence seems unlikely, and CTU researchers suspect that TG-4127 used the spearphishing emails or similar techniques to gain an initial foothold in the DNC network,” SecureWorks researchers said.

An analysis of the documents leaked by Guccifer has shown that the individual might be based in Russia, and experts have pointed out several reasons why Russia could benefit from the hack.

While it’s possible that Guccifer 2.0 has nothing to do with the cyberspy groups, experts believe the persona might have been set up by Russian intelligence in an effort to throw investigators off track. CrowdStrike said it stands by its analysis and findings.

“Whether or not this posting is part of a Russian Intelligence disinformation campaign, we are exploring the documents’ authenticity and origin. Regardless, these claims do nothing to lessen our findings relating to the Russian government’s involvement, portions of which we have documented for the public and the greater security community,” the company said.

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.