Russian Group Sandworm Foiled in Attempt to Disrupt Ukraine Power Grid

The attack involved the use of a new version of the Industroyer tool for manipulating industrial control systems.

Ukraine’s computer emergency response team (CERT-UA), in collaboration with researchers from ESET and Microsoft, last week foiled a cyberattack on an energy company that would have disconnected several high-voltage substations from a section of the country’s electric grid on April 8.

The attack, by Russia’s infamous Sandworm group, involved the use of a new, more customized version of Industroyer, a malware tool that the threat actor first used in Dec. 2016 to cause a temporary power outage in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. In addition to the ICS-capable malware, the latest attack also featured destructive disk-wiping tools for the energy company’s Windows, Linux, and Solaris operating system environments that were designed to complicate recovery efforts.

The Russian cyber-assault, in the middle of the country’s grinding war in Ukraine, has stirred concern about similar attacks on other energy companies in Ukraine and outside the country as well. It prompted the CERT-UA to distribute indicators of compromise and other attack artifacts to energy companies in Ukraine and to what it described as a “limited number” of international partners.

Andrii Bezverkhyi, CEO of SOC Prime, who is currently in Ukraine as a consultant with CERT-UA, says energy companies everywhere need to view the latest Sandworm cyber operation as a signal of escalation and be on high alert.

“They have the capability to strike synchronously across entire [industries or geographies],” Bezverkhyi says. He advises that energy companies everywhere hone up on Sandworm’s tactics, techniques, and procedures so they can better detect and protect against the threat actor.

A Dangerous, Persistent Threat
Sandworm is an advanced persistent threat actor linked to a special technology operations group at the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). The group has been associated with several high-profile and destructive attacks over the years — most notably on Ukraine’s electricity system. In 2015, Sandworm used malware called BlackEnergy in an attack that took down a swathe of Ukraine’s power grid for several hours. In 2016, it used Industroyer to a similar effect in Ukraine and then followed up the next year with destructive data-wiping attacks using the NotPetya malware tool. The Sandworm group is also thought to be behind denial-of-service attacks in the country of Georgia, as well as a campaign that targeted the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Industroyer, the threat actor’s weapon of choice in the latest attack, is malware specifically made to disrupt equipment associated with electric grids. Previous research by ESET and Dragos has shown the malware to be designed to allow threat actors to gain remote control of switches and circuit breakers in high-voltage substations and to manipulate them in such a way as to trigger disruptions. For example, the version of the malware used in the 2016 Ukraine attack could be used to force circuit breakers to remain open, resulting in the substation becoming de-energized. Read more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *