The Bioeconomy Information Sharing and Analysis Center (BIO-ISAC) on Monday raised the alarm on cyberattacks targeting biomanufacturing facilities.
Dubbed Tardigrade, the new campaign was initially identified in spring 2021, when a new variant of Smoke Loader malware was found within the network of a large biomanufacturing facility. In October 2021, the malware was found on the network of a second facility.
“Through the subsequent investigation, a malware loader was identified that demonstrated a high degree of autonomy as well as metamorphic capabilities,” BIO-ISAC says in an alert.
Also referred to as Dofoil, Smoke Loader has been around for roughly a decade, allowing various threat actors to deploy additional malware onto compromised systems, including the TrickBot Trojan.
According to a BIO-ISAC report to which biomedical and cybersecurity firm BioBright contributed, the Tardigrade attacks also involved the deployment of ransomware, but researchers told Wired that the ransomware may have only been used to cover up other activities carried out by the attackers.
Employed in espionage attacks, the main purpose of the malware is to download payloads and manipulate files on the compromised systems.
“[T]his system seems to be able to recompile the loader from memory without leaving a consistent signature. Recompiling occurs after a network connection in the wild that could be a call to a command and control (CnC) server to download and execute the compiler,” the BIO-ISAC report reads.
Unlike previous versions of Smoke Loader, the new variant is metamorphic and more autonomous and can “decide on lateral movement based on internal logic.” It can also selectively identify files for modification, seeks to escalate privileges, encrypts traffic to the server, and functions as a backdoor.
Due to Tardigrade’s sophistication, BIO-ISAC attributes the attack to an advanced persistent threat (APT), without making an exact attribution. Researchers believe it could be a foreign government, with some evidence pointing to Russian threat actors.
BIO-ISAC also provides indicators of compromise related to the campaign and encourages biomanufacturing organizations to check their networks for any signs of infection, back up important data, employ an antivirus solution, and train employees on how to spot phishing attempts.
“At this time, biomanufacturing sites and their partners are encouraged to assume that they are targets and take necessary steps to review their cybersecurity and response postures,” BIO-ISAC says.