The cyber-war era: the rapid growth of the threat landscape
The threat landscape is accelerating faster as global tensions grow over the Russia Ukraine conflict.
March 3rd, 2022
In this blog we explain what you should be looking out for in the cyber-war era, and how you can best protect the cyber-security of your organisation.
The threat landscape is accelerating faster as global tensions grow over the Russia Ukraine conflict. The Cyber-war is well underway, with Ukraine rallying troops for the frontline of the cyber battleground.
Cyber-war era: as cyber security threats rise, what should you look out for?
Amid the tensions of early 2022 cyber-attacks were already on the rise, with threat actors targeting both Ukrainian organisations and their government. Although there are still questions around who may be responsible for some of these attacks, Ukraine firmly believes Russian state actors are responsible – and evidence would strongly suggest that is the case.
Since the Russian invasion began in Ukraine on 24th February 2022, businesses and government institutions globally are on high alert for state-sponsored cyber threats – with banks, energy companies and airlines undertaking additional work to strengthen their defences against such attacks. There is an underpinning fear that this could be the new era of global cyber-war.
Cyber-attacks on state-owned digital assets such as the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and Military websites increased in February, as they were hit with DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, along with two large Ukrainian banks – PrivatBank and Oschadbank. In this case, the websites were flooded with traffic to the point that they crashed, making the websites unusable.
Microsoft has issued a Security Intelligence advisory about FoxBlade, a novel trojan. This trojan can use your PC for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks without your knowledge.
At the end of February, there was the discovery of the new wiper malware that had been unleashed – dubbed HermeticWiper by some and FoxBlade by others. As well the as DDoS attacks mentioned above, it was designed to wipe the hard drives/system storage of the systems infected, corrupting all the data in the drive – making the data unrecoverable – then initiating a system shutdown. It has been found on Ukranian computers, as well as on machines in Latvia and Lithuania.
Furthermore, a “worm component” dubbed HermeticWizard, has been discovered that could be used to spread the HermeticWiper in local networks.
FoxBlade (HermeticWiper) also downloads and installs other programs – including other malware – onto infected systems, Microsoft has advised.
Cybersecurity experts identified a second wiper cyber-attack, named IsaacWiper, targeted at Ukrainian governmental networks according to a report on Tuesday 1st March. The second wiper attack was detected on 24th February and is described to be a lot less sophisticated than HermeticWiper.
The UK’s NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) and the US CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) have released details about a new malware targeting network devices, which they attributed to Sandworm – a threat actor previously attributed to the Russian GRU’s Main Centre for Special Technologies (GTsST).
Cyclops Blink is a new piece of malware that targets network devices – supposedly being used by the Sandworm threat actor – a replacement for the VPNFilter malware 2018. The malware collects device information, sending it to a command-and-control server. It can download and execute files, as well as getting additional modules at a later date.
Researchers have identified a web service hosting cloned copies of websites. A number of Ukrainian government websites were cloned, along with the main webpage of the Office of the President. These sites were filled with malware links, that once clicked, would download on to the user’s computer.
What does this cyber-war era mean for nations other than Russia and Ukraine?
Whenever one nation launches a cyber-attack against another, it doesn’t just increase cyber risk for the nations involved. It also impacts global cyber risks. The Cyber Attack Predictive Index (CAPI) tool, created by Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, has hit its highest possible threat likelihood level, at a score of 25 (out of 25) under the current situation.
While the aforementioned attacks aren’t particularly sophisticated, and can be mitigated with the right cyber protection measures, these types of attacks have previously been used as a diversion tactic in order to lay groundwork for more damaging, sophisticated attacks.
Exposure or risk
As the EU, UK and the US impose sanctions on Russia and Belarus there is greater chance of being at risk of targeted cyber-attacks, as retaliations make take place from the Russian and respective forces. Companies across Britain have been warned to prepare for a heightened security risks as the UK placed sanctions on three of Russia’s wealthy allies.
UK organisations have been urged by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) ‘bolster their online defences’ and warned that there has been an ‘historical pattern of cyber-attacks on Ukraine with international consequences’.
According to Laurance Dine, global partner, X-Force Incident Response, IBM, businesses need to start operating under the assumption of compromise, and put in place the proper controls and measures necessary to defend their environment and critical data.
The UK government may well be taking their own measures to defend the cyber security of the nation, as secretary of state for defence, Ben Wallace, told parliament in reference to the National Cyber Force: “I am a soldier, and I was always taught that the best part of defence is offence… What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and that if necessary we could use cyber warfare to give as good as we get back to Russia.”
High alert for the energy sector
This week (28th February 2022) the UK Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is holding talks with the chair of National Grid amid anticipation of a surge in state-sponsored cyber-attacks from Russia. A wise move considering that, in a recent report published by IBM Security, the UK’s energy sector was the target of 24% of all cybersecurity incidents in the country last year. It is also thought that Russia was most likely responsible for the SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline attacks of 2020 and 2021.
- It may seem obvious but evaluate the controls you have in place against cyber-attacks, particularly ransomware.
- Pay close attention to the news cycle in relation to this situation.
- Pay attention to the types of attacks that are coming through via security feeds.
- Keep everything patched.
- Watch out for any suspicious traffic that may be coming from outside of the country.
At QuoStar we are committed to helping you and your business remain secure. Our experienced industry professionals are here to give you measured and realistic advice.
Evaluate your protection against currents risks, book a complimentary initial cyber security review session with our Head of Security David Clarke.
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