Russia's invasion of Ukraine tears open political rift between cybercriminals

Is the West OK when the gun points the other way?


Cybercriminals are taking sides over Russia's deadly invasion of Ukraine, putting either the West or Moscow in their sights, according to Accenture.

The consultancy giant's Cyber Threat Intelligence team, which tracks illicit dark-web activity, said in a report [PDF] dated Monday that this is the first time it has witnessed "financially motivated threat actors divided along ideological factions."

These crooks, who typically act opportunistically to extort large sums of money from victims via ransomware, are either backing or opposing President Putin's war on Ukraine, and selecting their targets along those lines, we're told.

"Pro-Ukrainian actors are refusing to sell, buy, or collaborate with Russian-aligned actors and are increasingly attempting to target Russian entities in support of Ukraine," Accenture claimed.

"However, pro-Russian actors are increasingly aligning with hacktivist-like activity targeting 'enemies of Russia,' especially Western entities due to their claims of Western warmongering."

Some of these gangs are selling access to compromised networks, and other nefarious services, exclusively to Kremlin-linked miscreants and sympathetic entities, we're told. Related to that, specific sectors in the West face a higher risk of attack. "The targeting of financial and insurance entities is due to the perception that they are the working arms of Western financial sanctions, whereas the targeting of utilities and resources entities is due to those organizations' importance as critical national infrastructure," according to Accenture.

These political divides played out in the Conti leak. After the notorious ransomware group announced its unwavering support for President Vladimir Putin and his occupation of Ukraine, plus its intent to use "all possible resources to strike back" should anyone launch a cyberattack against Russia, the crew suffered a security breach of its own.

A Ukrainian security specialist stole and leaked Conti's source code, chat logs, and tons of other sensitive data about the gang's operations, tools, and costs.

LockBit, another pro-Russian ransomware gang, learned from Conti's misfortune and quickly retracted its Kremlin support, claiming apolitical neutrality. A note posted to the group's Tor-hidden blog stated: "We are only interested in money."

However, this shift in motivations means criminal groups are, if not already, actively eyeing up Western critical infrastructure, Accenture reported. These types of targets have moved from "low-medium" priority to becoming the focus of targeted ransomware campaigns, the authors wrote. The team said it "observed multiple actors specifically stating desires to target Western critical infrastructure to support Russia."

Conti is one of these, and it's worth noting that last week several US agencies – CISA, the FBI, the NSA, and the Secret Service – posted a joint advisory warning that "Conti cyber-threat actors remain active and reported Conti ransomware attacks against US and international organizations have risen to more than 1,000."

Also noteworthy: Accenture found miscreants are paying more for specialized malware. The team said it has "has seen some of the biggest and seemingly ever-rising budgets for custom malware and exploits by these actors, with some actors like Integra and FlawlessMarble having budgets of $5m to $10m, allowing them to acquire almost any tool or exploit desired."

"We're also seeing budgets up to $500,000 for actors seeking network access," Accenture added.

Cyberattacks outside of Ukraine

Meanwhile, Mandiant (soon to be absorbed by Google Cloud) cautioned that while Ukraine remains a target for destructive cyberattacks, US and EU sectors face a "moderate-high" risk of attack from Kremlin-aligned miscreants.

Palo Alto Networks sounded a similar drumbeat. Its Unit 42 threat intelligence team also expects Russian-backed cyberattacks to spread beyond Ukraine.

And fresh Check Point analysis indicates this spread may have begun. According to the security shop's threat research group, cyberattacks against government and military organizations globally has increased 21 percent since the Russian invasion began. Online attacks on Europe as a whole are up 14 percent, 17 percent for North America, 20 percent for Ukraine, and one percent for Russia, apparently.

It sure is a busy time for cybersecurity vendors. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Despite 'key' partnership with AWS, Meta taps up Microsoft Azure for AI work
    Someone got Zuck'd

    Meta’s AI business unit set up shop in Microsoft Azure this week and announced a strategic partnership it says will advance PyTorch development on the public cloud.

    The deal [PDF] will see Mark Zuckerberg’s umbrella company deploy machine-learning workloads on thousands of Nvidia GPUs running in Azure. While a win for Microsoft, the partnership calls in to question just how strong Meta’s commitment to Amazon Web Services (AWS) really is.

    Back in those long-gone days of December, Meta named AWS as its “key long-term strategic cloud provider." As part of that, Meta promised that if it bought any companies that used AWS, it would continue to support their use of Amazon's cloud, rather than force them off into its own private datacenters. The pact also included a vow to expand Meta’s consumption of Amazon’s cloud-based compute, storage, database, and security services.

    Continue reading
  • Atos pushes out HPC cloud services based on Nimbix tech
    Moore's Law got you down? Throw everything at the problem! Quantum, AI, cloud...

    IT services biz Atos has introduced a suite of cloud-based high-performance computing (HPC) services, based around technology gained from its purchase of cloud provider Nimbix last year.

    The Nimbix Supercomputing Suite is described by Atos as a set of flexible and secure HPC solutions available as a service. It includes access to HPC, AI, and quantum computing resources, according to the services company.

    In addition to the existing Nimbix HPC products, the updated portfolio includes a new federated supercomputing-as-a-service platform and a dedicated bare-metal service based on Atos BullSequana supercomputer hardware.

    Continue reading
  • In record year for vulnerabilities, Microsoft actually had fewer
    Occasional gaping hole and overprivileged users still blight the Beast of Redmond

    Despite a record number of publicly disclosed security flaws in 2021, Microsoft managed to improve its stats, according to research from BeyondTrust.

    Figures from the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) show last year broke all records for security vulnerabilities. By December, according to pentester Redscan, 18,439 were recorded. That's an average of more than 50 flaws a day.

    However just 1,212 vulnerabilities were reported in Microsoft products last year, said BeyondTrust, a 5 percent drop on the previous year. In addition, critical vulnerabilities in the software (those with a CVSS score of 9 or more) plunged 47 percent, with the drop in Windows Server specifically down 50 percent. There was bad news for Internet Explorer and Edge vulnerabilities, though: they were up 280 percent on the prior year, with 349 flaws spotted in 2021.

    Continue reading
  • ServiceNow takes aim at procurement pain points
    Purchasing teams are a bit like help desks – always being asked to answer dumb or inappropriate questions

    ServiceNow's efforts to expand into more industries will soon include a Procurement Service Management product.

    This is not a dedicated application – ServiceNow has occasionally flirted with templates for its platform that come very close to being apps. Instead it stays close to the company's core of providing workflows that put the right jobs in the right hands, and make sure they get done. In this case, it will do so by tickling ERP and dedicated procurement applications, using tech ServiceNow acquired along with a company called Gekkobrain in 2021.

    The company believes it can play to its strengths with procurements via a single, centralized buying team.

    Continue reading
  • HPE, Cerebras build AI supercomputer for scientific research
    Wafer madness hits the LRZ in HPE Superdome supercomputer wrapper

    HPE and Cerebras Systems have built a new AI supercomputer in Munich, Germany, pairing a HPE Superdome Flex with the AI accelerator technology from Cerebras for use by the scientific and engineering community.

    The new system, created for the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Munich, is being deployed to meet the current and expected future compute needs of researchers, including larger deep learning neural network models and the emergence of multi-modal problems that involve multiple data types such as images and speech, according to Laura Schulz, LRZ's head of Strategic Developments and Partnerships.

    "We're seeing an increase in large data volumes coming at us that need more and more processing, and models that are taking months to train, we want to be able to speed that up," Schulz said.

    Continue reading
  • We have bigger targets than beating Oracle, say open source DB pioneers
    Advocates for MySQL and PostgreSQL see broader future for movement they helped create

    MySQL pioneer Peter Zaitsev, an early employee of MySQL AB under the original open source database author Michael "Monty" Widenius, once found it easy to identify the enemy.

    "In the early days of MySQL AB, we were there to get Oracle's ass. Our CEO Mårten Mickos was always telling us how we were going to get out there and replace all those Oracle database installations," Zaitsev told The Register.

    Speaking at Percona Live, the open source database event hosted by the services company Zaitsev founded in 2006 and runs as chief exec, he said that situation had changed since Oracle ended up owning MySQL in 2010. This was as a consequence of its acquisition that year of Sun Microsystems, which had bought MySQL AB just two years earlier.

    Continue reading
  • Beijing needs the ability to 'destroy' Starlink, say Chinese researchers
    Paper authors warn Elon Musk's 2,400 machines could be used offensively

    An egghead at the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, writing in a peer-reviewed domestic journal, has advocated for Chinese military capability to take out Starlink satellites on the grounds of national security.

    According to the South China Morning Post, lead author Ren Yuanzhen and colleagues advocated in Modern Defence Technology not only for China to develop anti-satellite capabilities, but also to have a surveillance system that could monitor and track all satellites in Starlink's constellation.

    "A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation's operating system," the Chinese boffins reportedly said, estimating that data transmission speeds of stealth fighter jets and US military drones could increase by a factor of 100 through a Musk machine connection.

    Continue reading
  • How to explain what an API is – and why they matter
    Some of us have used them for decades, some are seeing them for the first time on marketing slides

    Systems Approach Explaining what an API is can be surprisingly difficult.

    It's striking to remember that they have been around for about as long as we've had programming languages, and that while the "API economy" might be a relatively recent term, APIs have been enabling innovation for decades. But how to best describe them to someone for whom application programming interfaces mean little or nothing?

    I like this short video from Martin Casado, embedded below, which starts with the analogy of building cars. In the very early days, car manufacturers were vertically integrated businesses, essentially starting from iron ore and coal to make steel all the way through to producing the parts and then the assembled vehicle. As the business matured and grew in size, car manufacturers were able to buy components built by others, and entire companies could be created around supplying just a single component, such as a spring.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022