Microsoft Word exploit linked to cyberspying in Ukraine conflict

The attack appears to have occurred in January, before Microsoft became aware of the flaw

A previously unknown Microsoft Office vulnerability was recently used to deliver spyware to Russian-speaking targets, in a possible case of cyberespionage.

Security firm FireEye noticed the intrusion attempt, which taps a critical software flaw that hackers are using to craft malicious Microsoft Word documents.

On Wednesday, FireEye said it uncovered one attack that weaponized a Russian military training manual. Once opened, the malicious document will deliver FinSpy, a surveillance software that’s been marketed to governments.

It’s unclear who the document was targeting. However, it appears to have been published in the Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway region in Ukraine that’s received Russian support.

FinSpy, also known as FinFisher, is developed by a subsidiary of Gamma Group, a European firm that specializes in surveillance and monitoring equipment. Thirty-three governments have been suspected of using the firm's spyware, according to a 2015 investigation from Citizen Lab.

FireEye said the malicious Russian training manual can download additional malware payloads to the victim’s computer, along with another fake document claiming to be a Russian decree approving a forest management plan.

The attack appears to have occurred this January, months before Microsoft became aware of the vulnerability. Given that Gamma Group probably has a long list of government customers, FireEye suspects other parties may have hacked targets in the same way, using FinSpy.

It’s also possible that knowledge about the Microsoft vulnerability may have been circulated in the hacking community.

In March, a separate attack was found using the vulnerability but instead to deliver malware that’s been involved in financial crimes.

However, FireEye said that both this attack and the intrusion attempt against Russian-speaking targets share similar code. This suggests different hacking groups may have gotten information about Microsoft vulnerability from the same source.

Fortunately, Microsoft on Tuesday issued a patch to fix the flaw. Security researchers warn that opening email attachments remain a major source of malware infections.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?