Ukrainian authorities reported over the weekend that a piece of malware had been discovered on the networks of the Boryspil international airport in Kiev.
According to a statement published on the airport’s website, Boryspil’s IT team found a sample of the BlackEnergy malware on a workstation in the airport’s computer network. The threat was reportedly neutralized before it could cause any damage.
The incident has been reported to the Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine (CERT-UA), which published an advisory on Monday to warn system administrators about BlackEnergy attacks. A thorough investigation of the airport’s IT systems has been conducted with support from CERT-UA.
Andrei Lysenko, a spokesman of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, named Russia as the prime suspect for the cyberattack. Lysenko told Reuters that the attack was traced back to a server in Russia.
However, experts have often cautioned about the implications of cyberattack attribution, especially since sophisticated threat actors have been known to conduct “black flag” operations in an effort to throw investigators off track.
“Things are not always what they seem. In this case, the C2 server is in Russia – but that certainly doesn’t mean that Russian actors are responsible. The server could be a legitimate business server in Russia that was hacked by a foreign group. It could also be a VPS, payed for via Bitcoin,” Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, explained in a blog post.
“Until more supporting evidence is released, it is difficult to conclusively attribute this to Russia. We always recommend that attribution not be made based on IP addresses alone. In fact, unless the Russian hackers want their activity attributed to them, the use of the Russian C2 server points away from Russia being involved. Much better attribution data will likely be collected as part of a larger incident response operation,” Williams added.
News of the attack on the Boryspil airport comes shortly after Ukrainian authorities accused Russia of using BlackEnergy malware in attacks aimed at the country’s energy sector. The cyberattacks, which resulted in power outages, involved BlackEnergy and a plugin dubbed “KillDisk.”
While KillDisk is designed to destroy files and damage SCADA systems, experts believe the malware was not directly responsible for the outages. Researchers noted that the attackers likely interacted with the system to cause service disruptions and KillDisk was only used to cover their tracks and make it more difficult to restore power.
Shortly after the Ukraine power grid attacks, security firm iSIGHT Partners noted that a group dubbed “Sandworm Team” or a related Russian operator was likely behind the operation. ESET has also analyzed the attacks and pointed out that while the BlackEnergy malware does have Russian origins and is commonly associated with a supposedly Russian group, attribution is a complicated matter.
The fact that BlackEnergy source code was leaked at some point, the threat’s evolution, and the several versions circulating in the wild make it difficult to determine if the malware is currently operated by one or multiple groups.
Robert M. Lee, founder and CEO of Dragos Security, who has investigated the recent attacks in Ukraine, noted that it’s too early to start making accusations regarding the Boryspil incident.
Especially during geopolitically sensitive times such claims require evidence. And, if true, attribution is far too early.
— Robert M. Lee (@RobertMLee) January 18, 2016