Russia’s Gamaredon aka Primitive Bear APT Group actively targeting Ukraine


Since November, geopolitical tensions between Russia and Ukraine have escalated dramatically. It is estimated that Russia has now amassed over 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border, leading some to speculate that an invasion may come next. On Jan. 14, 2022, this conflict spilled over into the cyber domain as the Ukrainian government was targeted with destructive malware (WhisperGate) and a separate vulnerability in OctoberCMS was exploited to deface several Ukrainian government websites. While attribution of those events is ongoing and there is no known link to Gamaredon (aka Primitive Bear), one of the most active existing advanced persistent threats targeting Ukraine, we anticipate we will see additional malicious cyber activities over the coming weeks as the conflict evolves. We have also observed recent activity from Gamaredon. In light of this, this blog provides an update on the Gamaredon group.

Since 2013, just prior to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the Gamaredon group has primarily focused its cyber campaigns against Ukrainian government officials and organizations. In 2017, Unit 42 published its first research documenting Gamaredon’s evolving toolkit and naming the group, and over the years, several researchers have noted that the operations and targeting activities of this group align with Russian interests. This link was recently substantiated on Nov. 4, 2021, when the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) publicly attributed the leadership of the group to five Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers assigned to posts in Crimea. Concurrently, the SSU also released an updated technical report documenting the tools and tradecraft employed by this group.

Given the current geopolitical situation and the specific target focus of this APT group, Unit 42 continues to actively monitor for indicators of their operations. In doing so, we have mapped out three large clusters of their infrastructure used to support different phishing and malware purposes. These clusters link to over 700 malicious domains, 215 IP addresses and over 100 samples of malware.

Monitoring these clusters, we observed an attempt to compromise a Western government entity in Ukraine on Jan. 19, 2022. We have also identified potential malware testing activity and reuse of historical techniques involving open-source virtual network computing (VNC) software. The sections below offer an overview of our findings in order to aid targeted entities in Ukraine as well as cybersecurity organizations in defending against this threat group.

Palo Alto Networks customers receive protections against the types of threats discussed in this blog by products including Cortex XDR and the WildFire, AutoFocus, Advanced URL Filtering and DNS Security subscription services for the Next-Generation Firewall.

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