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Russian Critical Infrastructure Targeted by Profit-Driven Cybercriminals

Several critical infrastructure organizations in Russia have been targeted by hackers believed to be financially-motivated cybercriminals rather than state-sponsored cyberspies.

An analysis of malicious Word documents led researchers at endpoint security firm Cylance to discover fake websites set up to impersonate the legitimate sites of Russian oil giant Rosneft and two dozen other major Russian companies. The targets included critical infrastructure organizations in sectors such as oil, gas, chemical, and agriculture. The list also included a couple of major financial exchanges based in Russia.

Since many of the targeted organizations are owned by the Russian government, one would expect the fake websites to have been set up by state-sponsored threat actors focusing on espionage. However, a closer analysis revealed that they were actually used by profit-driven cybercriminals for command and control (C&C) purposes.

The fake websites closely resembled the target’s legitimate site and the domains hosting them imitated the real domain.

The attackers sent out specially crafted documents designed to fetch a piece of malware from one of the fake websites. The main piece of malware delivered in these attacks, a version of the RedControle malware, opens a backdoor to the targeted system, allowing the hackers to collect sensitive and valuable information.

Cylance researchers determined that the cybercriminals have been active for more than three years, with very few changes made to their malware. The security firm noted that none of the targets of this campaign are its customers so it’s unclear if the attacks were successful.

“We believe that the attack makes money via BEC – Business Email Compromise,” Kevin Levilli, Director of Threat Intelligence at Cylance, told SecurityWeek. “The threat actor first harvests victim credentials through straight-shot collection via keylogging malware, then it conducts reconnaissance of the people inside the target organization with whom the initial victim has contact, and then, in some cases, additional victims are directed to fake websites that resemble actual target organization pages where even more credentials are taken.”

“Throughout this process, the threat actor can, having achieved the compromise of dozens of target email accounts, log into those email accounts, and, posing as the true owner of the account, change bank routing numbers and otherwise misdirect company funds to accounts under their control,” Levilli added.

The FBI reported earlier this year that BEC scams have cost businesses around the world over $12 billion in the past years.

This campaign was first detailed (article written in Russian) last year by Russian cybersecurity firm Group-IB, which analyzed several of the phishing sites used by the threat group.

Cylance’s investigation revealed some links to hackers previously involved in operations targeting Steam, Counter-Strike and other gaming communities.

“Interestingly, we uncovered evidence that suggests the actor started out targeting the gaming community, specifically users of Steam, then quickly evolved to more lucrative endeavors,” Cylance said in a blog post.

Levilli told SecurityWeek that the last major cluster of activity associated with this group was spotted in October, but Cylance strongly suspects the attacks are still ongoing.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at 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.