The French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems has publicly attributed a range of attacks that targeted multiple information technology providers in France to Russia’s Sandworm group.
A technical report released in late January by the agency, also known as ANSSI, details a campaign that ran from 2017 to 2020. It exploited a vulnerability in Centreon, a French IT resource monitoring platform that’s similar to the SolarWinds Worldwide LLC Orion platform that was famously compromised last year.
Centreon, while also offering services in North America, is popular among French companies and is also extensively used by the French government. Known Centreon customers include Airbus SE, Air France KLM S.A., Agence France-Presse, Euronews, Orange S.A., Arcelor Mittal S.A. and Sephora.
Upon gaining access via systems where Centreon was left connected to the internet, the attackers installed a version of the so-called P.A.S. web shell and the Exaramel backdoor trojan virus. ZDNet today described the pair as two malware strains that when used together allow hackers to gain full control of the compromised system and its adjacent network.
The involvement of Sandworm is not surprising. The U.S. National Security Agency issued a warning in May that Russian military hackers, the Sandworm Team, had been exploiting a known vulnerability in email servers since at least August 2019. In October, the Department of Justice indicated six Russians were related to Sandworm.
The Justice Department indictment said the Sandworm members are employed by Unit 74455 of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, a military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. Also known as APT 28 and Fancy Bear, the group has been linked to a wide range of attacks.
In August 2017 it was reported that APT 28 was using U.S. National Security Agency leak exploits to target high-profile hotel guests. MacOS malware discovered in February 2017 was also linked to the same group. In August 2018, Microsoft Corp. shut down some domains used by the group, but it was equivalent to swatting a few flies in a swarm. Sandworm was also linked to a hack that targeted the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the 2017 French elections and the NotPetya ransomware attacks.
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