In November, the DNSpionage group conducted a cyber attack on the Domain Name System (DNS) with a substantial impact. However, their recent expansion towards stealthier cyberattacks in the DNS calls for reevaluating strategies to combat this data destroyer. Additionally, the NotPetya Wiper malware has significantly amplified the scale of damage caused by malware attacks in recent years, affecting various sectors and countries worldwide. In this article, we will delve into the origins and modus operandi of NotPetya, its association with Russian GRU operatives, and the valuable lessons cybersecurity experts have learned from this incident.
NotPetya, a powerful cyber pathogen surfacing on June 27, 2017, during Ukraine’s Constitution Day, struck over 80 Ukrainian companies, subsequently spreading its destruction across Europe and the globe. This malware was an evolution of Petya, a ransomware discovered in 2016. However, NotPetya differed significantly from traditional ransomware because it couldn’t be decrypted. Instead, it aimed at wiping data, making it more akin to a data destroyer or “wiper-type” malware.
The perpetrators cleverly concealed their true intentions by presenting a $300 ransom note. They utilized the EternalBlue computer tool, developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and stolen from the agency, to exploit a vulnerability in the Windows Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. Although Microsoft had patched this flaw for Windows 10, computers with unpatched Windows 10 or older versions were vulnerable to infection.
Mimikatz, an old security lookup tool capable of extracting passwords from memory, complemented EternalBlue, facilitating the malware’s movement from one machine to another, escalating its contagion.
Attribution and the GRU Connection
NotPetya’s origins have been linked to a group of Russian GRU operatives known as Sandworm or Unit 74455. This group might have been involved in various devastating cyber incidents, including the 2015 attack on Ukraine’s power grid. NotPetya’s destructiveness led to global damage amounting to over $10 billion.
Ransomware as a Weapon of War
The advent of NotPetya and its predecessor WannaCry marked a significant shift in ransomware usage. Cybercriminals transitioned from targeting individuals to becoming quasi-weapons of war. Nation-state-backed actors utilized ransomware to disrupt the operations of large corporations and states. This shift forced cybersecurity professionals to address real-world challenges, such as encryption and decryption, for geopolitical purposes rather than just theoretical concerns.
Impact on Cybersecurity Practices
NotPetya’s far-reaching consequences left a lasting impact on cybersecurity practices. The incident emphasized the importance of network segmentation for CISOs and security managers. A lack of proper segmentation allowed the malware to spread unchecked, crippling companies with flat networks connected to Ukraine.
The current conflict in Ukraine raises concerns about potential future cyber attacks and the possibility of another NotPetya-like event. The Russian hackers’ use of space in Ukraine’s war highlights the importance of preparedness against such devastating cyber campaigns.
NotPetya remains a defining moment in the history of cyberattacks, revealing the potential for malware to escalate into geopolitical warfare. The incident underscored the need for robust cybersecurity strategies, including proper network segmentation and vigilance against evolving cyber threats. As we continue to confront the challenges of stealthier dnspionage cyberattacks, the lessons learned from NotPetya serve as a crucial reminder of the ever-present cybersecurity landscape and the need for continuous improvement and adaptation in our defenses.