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Sandworm Hackers Hit French Monitoring Software Vendor Centreon

Russia-Linked Threat Group Caught Deploying Backdoors on Linux Servers in an Attack That Triggers New Conversations on Software Supply Chain Security

 The French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI) is publicly blaming the notorious Sandworm APT group for a series of long-term hacking attacks against multiple IT and web hosting shops in Europe.

According to a technical advisory released by ANSSI, the data breaches date back to 2017 and include the eyebrow-raising compromise of Centreon, an IT monitoring software provider widely embedded throughout government organizations in France.

The agency did not say if the Centreon compromise was part of a supply-chain attack but the decision to publicly identify the Sandworm attackers triggers new conversations about the group’s previous software supply chain targeting in high-profile APT attacks.

[UPDATE] Centreon said Tuesday that only an old version of its software dating from before 2015, used by open-source developers, had been infiltrated by the alleged hackers, and that commercial users are not affected.

Documented research has linked the Sandworm team to a government-backed Russian APT group linked to separate attacks against Ukraine targets in 2015 and 2017, and the 2018 cyberattack on the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

Supply Chain Security Summit

The French agency released a detailed technical report on the Centreon hack, which targeted Linux servers running the CentOS operating system. While the initial compromise method remains unknown, AANSI said the attackers deployed two backdoors and “has many similarities to previous campaigns of the Sandworm modus operandi.”

The agency also found known Sandworm-controlled servers being used as part of the command-and-control infrastructure for the four-year-old infiltrations of French and European entities.

“Generally speaking, the intrusion set Sandworm is known to lead consequent intrusion campaigns before focusing on specific targets that fits its strategic interests within the victims pool. The campaign observed by ANSSI fits this behaviour,” the agency said.

The report details the use of public and commercial VPN services to communicate with the backdoors, listing several legitimate tools and providers within Sandworm’s arsenal.  

AANSI also released a separate document with SNORT and YARA rules and other  indicators of compromise (IOCs) to help threat hunters search for signs of Sandworm activity.

The agency also published a series of recommendations for organizations to raise the bar for Sandworm and other APT groups.  These include improved patch management, server hardening, and limiting the exposure of monitoring systems.

“Monitoring systems such as Centreon need to be highly intertwined with the monitored information system and therefore are a prime target for intrusion sets seeking lateralisation,” the agency added.  

“It is recommended either not to expose these tools’ web interfaces to the Internet or to restrict such access using non-applicative authentication (TLS client certificate, basic authentication on the web server).”

*Updated Feb. 16 with Centreon claiming only older versions of its open-source product were inpacted by the breach

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Ryan Naraine is Editor-at-Large at SecurityWeek and host of the popular Security Conversations podcast series. Ryan is a veteran cybersecurity strategist who has built security engagement programs at major global brands, including Intel Corp., Bishop Fox and GReAT. He is a co-founder of Threatpost and the global SAS conference series. Ryan's past career as a security journalist included bylines at major technology publications including Ziff Davis eWEEK, CBS Interactive's ZDNet, PCMag and PC World. Ryan is a director of the Security Tinkerers non-profit, an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs, and a regular speaker at security conferences around the world. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanaraine.