BlackEnergy cyberespionage group adds disk wiper and SSH backdoor to its arsenal

The group recently attacked Ukrainian energy distribution and media companies causing power and data loss

A cyberespionage group focused on companies and organizations in the energy sector has recently updated its arsenal with a destructive data-wiping component and a backdoored SSH server.

The group is known in the security community as Sandworm or BlackEnergy, after its primary malware tool, and has been active for several years. It has primarily targeted companies that operate industrial control systems, especially in the energy sector, but has also gone after high-level government organizations, municipal offices, federal emergency services, national standards bodies, banks, academic research institutions and property companies.

Over the past few months, the group has targeted organizations from the media and energy industries in Ukraine, according to security researchers from antivirus vendor ESET. These new operations have brought to light some changes in the group's techniques.

In November, the Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine (CERT-UA) reported that during the country's local elections in October, multiple media organizations were attacked with BlackEnergy malware leading to the loss of video content and other data.

According to ESET researchers, the culprit was a new BlackEnergy component dubbed KillDisk that can be configured to delete specific types of files and render affected systems unbootable.

The KillDisk variant in the attack against media organizations was configured to delete over 4,000 file types, many of which were for video and documents.

The same component was also used recently in attacks against energy companies in Ukraine, but with a different configuration. It only targeted 35 file extensions and had a timed attack option.

"As well as being able to delete system files to make the system unbootable -- functionality typical for such destructive trojans -- the KillDisk variant detected in the electricity distribution companies also appears to contain some additional functionality specifically intended to sabotage industrial systems," the ESET researchers said in a blog post.

On the eve of Dec. 23, a large area in the Ivano-Frankivsk district in Ukraine suffered a power outage. Ukrainian news service TSN reported that the outage was caused by a virus that disconnected electrical substations.

Researchers from ESET believe that this attack was performed with the BlackEnergy malware and that it wasn't the only one.

"Looking at ESET’s own telemetry, we have discovered that the reported case was not an isolated incident and that other energy companies in Ukraine were targeted by cybercriminals at the same time," they said in a report.

The KillDisk component was used in some of those attacks. In addition to wiping various file types, it had been configured to stop two particular processes, one of them possibly associated with ELTIMA Serial to Ethernet Connectors or to ASEM Ubiquity, a remote management platform for industrial control systems (ICS).

This is not the first time that BlackEnergy has been used to attack industrial control systems. In 2014, the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, warned that multiple companies running HMI (human-machine interface) products from General Electric, Siemens and BroadWin/Advantech had their systems infected with BlackEnergy.

HMIs are software applications that provide a graphical user interface for monitoring and interacting with industrial control systems.

Another recent addition to the group's arsenal is a backdoored version of a SSH server called Dropbear. The ESET researchers have seen the BlackEnergy attackers deploying a variant of this software on compromised machines that had been pre-configured to accept a hard-coded password and key for SSH authentication.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?