Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) are being recognized as one of the biggest cyber threats in the industry today. There are many groups globally behind the numerous attacks of this type in recent history. Three major cyber incidents that garnered global attention were the BlackEnergy power grid attack, the Industroyer power grid attack, and the NotPetya malware outbreak. However, what if the same APT group was behind all three of these attacks?
The BlackEnergy attack caused blackouts in the Ukranian power grid in December 2015. Industroyer, also known as CrashOverride, also attacked the Ukranian power grid in December 2016 and is the first case of malware designed to specifically target a power grid. After the BlackEnergy attack, the group behind it (also called BlackEnergy) became known as TeleBots and carried out attacks against the Ukranian financial sector, eventually culminating in the outbreak of the NotPetya malware. There was speculation in the cybersecurity community that the BlackEnergy and Industroyer attacks were both perpetrated by the TeleBots group but no evidence to support these claims. However, the discovery of another TeleBots malware, Exramel, by the ESET security group in April 2018 provided the missing link.
Exramel uses a backdoor that appears to be an upgraded version of the backdoor used by Industroyer. There are many similarities in the code, especially the list of available commands it can receive from its Command and Control (C&C) servers and the way each handles reporting and redirecting output streams. Each backdoor also disguises itself as an antivirus service for detection avoidance and groups targets based on their security solutions being used. The similarity between the two led the ESET researchers to conclude that it is unlikely to be a case of coincidental code sharing between threat actors.
Linking TeleBots to Industroyer shows just how much of a threat the group can pose, being the single entity behind three of the most groundbreaking and devastating cyberattacks in history. In addition, the recent claims from multiple governments that Russian military intelligence groups are behind TeleBots throws even more intrigue into the mix and leaves a daunting question: what could TeleBots be up to next?