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Google Sees More APTs Using Ukraine War-Related Themes

Researchers at Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) say the number of advanced threat actors using Ukraine war-related themes in cyberattacks went up in April with a surge in malware attacks targeting critical infrastructure.

Researchers at Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) say the number of advanced threat actors using Ukraine war-related themes in cyberattacks went up in April with a surge in malware attacks targeting critical infrastructure.

According to Google, known state-backed APT groups from China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, along with various unattributed groups have been using war-related themes in phishing and malware distribution campaigns.

Looking at the cyberattacks that target Eastern Europe, however, a new Google report notes there hasn’t been a significant change from the normal levels of activity, despite the increased adoption of lures related to the Ukraine war.

In April, Google observed APT28/Fancy Bear – a threat actor long suspected to be backed by the Russian government – targeting entities in Ukraine with a new malware variant, designed to steal cookies and saved passwords from Chrome, Edge, and Firefox.

Turla, another hacking group linked to the Russian government, was observed targeting organizations in the Baltics region with emails carrying a link to a DOCX file hosted on an attacker-controlled domain. When opened, the document attempted to download a PNG file from the same site.

Also referred to as Callisto and Gamaredon, the Russia-based threat actor Coldriver continued to use Gmail for the distribution of credential phishing emails to defense and government officials, journalists, NGOs, politicians, and think tanks, Google said.

[ READ: Facebook Battles Cyber Campaigns Targeting Ukraine ]

The group was seen embedding phishing links directly into emails, as well as linking PDFs and DOCs hosted on Google and Microsoft cloud services. Google says it blocked the phishing domains.

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Belarus-linked Ghostwriter, which remained active during the war, recently resumed credential phishing attacks against Gmail accounts, as part of a campaign aimed at high risk individuals in Ukraine.

The email messages carried links to compromised websites hosting the first stage phishing page, which would redirect the user to an attacker-controlled domain to collect credentials. According to Google, no accounts were compromised as part of this campaign.

“Upon discovery, all identified websites and domains were added to Safe Browsing to protect users from further exploitation. We also send all targeted Gmail and Workspace users government-backed attacker alerts notifying them of the activity,” Google said.

Related: Energy Provider in Ukraine Targeted With ICS Malware

Related: Microsoft Says Russia Coordinating Cyberattacks With Military Strikes in Ukraine

Related: Russia, Ukraine and the Danger of a Global Cyberwar

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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