Microsoft Discovers Destructive Malware Targeting Ukraine

In a blog published Saturday, Microsoft says it has discovered  a destructive malware being used to corrupt systems of multiple organizations in Ukraine. Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) first discovered the ransomware-like malware on January 13:

While our investigation is continuing, MSTIC has not found any notable associations between this observed activity, tracked as DEV-0586, and other known activity groups. MSTIC assesses that the malware, which is designed to look like ransomware but lacking a ransom recovery mechanism, is intended to be destructive and designed to render targeted devices inoperable rather than to obtain a ransom.

At present and based on Microsoft visibility, our investigation teams have identified the malware on dozens of impacted systems and that number could grow as our investigation continues. These systems span multiple government, non-profit, and information technology organizations, all based in Ukraine. We do not know the current stage of this attacker’s operational cycle or how many other victim organizations may exist in Ukraine or other geographic locations. However, it is unlikely these impacted systems represent the full scope of impact as other organizations are reporting.

Given the scale of the observed intrusions, MSTIC is not able to assess intent of the identified destructive actions but does believe these actions represent an elevated risk to any government agency, non-profit or enterprise located or with systems in Ukraine. We strongly encourage all organizations to immediately conduct a thorough investigation and to implement defenses using the information provided in this post. MSTIC will update this blog as we have additional information to share.

Given the current tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and NATO countries, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that the Russians are behind this.

Saryu Nayyar, CEO and Founder, Gurucul had this comment:

“As noted, this is not atypical ransomware as it overwrites the master boot record. Nation state threat actors usually have three objectives, spying for intelligence, intellectual property theft, and disruption/destruction. Clearly this is the latter as these threat actor groups aren’t interested in simple financial gain. What is of note is the malware propagates through publicly available code used for lateral movement and execution. Part of that execution is downloading of file corruption software from a Discord channel. This is where it is critical to employ adaptive machine learning and behavioral detection found in true next generation SIEMs identifying the lateral movement and connection attempts to Discord. In addition, identity and access analytics are extremely useful here to determine unusual or unauthorized remote access. The combination of the two goes beyond sifting through traditional IoCs that can easily be missed or escalated by traditional SIEMs or XDR tools.”

It also wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that we can expect to see more use of this type of malware as this political crisis continues.

UPDATE: Saumitra Das, CTO and Cofounder of Blue Hexagon had this comment:

“The tactics used in this attack seem to focus on disruption rather than moneymaking. Wiping the MBR causing systems to go down is not beneficial to criminal gangs out to make a quick buck but very effective for nation states as a provocation or tool used for larger aims. Usually, malware that extorts based on disruption does not usually make the system inoperable but merely throttles it.”

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