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Malware Used In DNC Breach Found Tracking Ukraine Military

Russian 'Fancy Bear' now tied to Ukraine artillery Android app hack with the same malware used in breach of the Democratic National Committee. Forget that 400-pound hacker sitting on his bed somewhere.
Security researchers have discovered yet another link between the Russian military and the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC): this time, in an Android app used by Ukraine's military. Security firm Crowdstrike, which previously had identified a Russian nation-state cyber espionage unit as the perpetrator behind the DNC data breach and leak of emails and other information in the run-up to the US presidential election, recently found the so-called Fancy Bear hacking team's signature spying malware embedded in an Android app originally created by a Ukrainian artillery officer to help calibrate its field artillery operation in the battle against Russian forces. The Android version of the so-called X-Agent backdoor malware is able to track the location of Ukrainian artillery forces, and can hijack communications from the mobile devices running the malware.

Crowdstrike found that X-Agent from late 2014 through 2016 had been surreptitiously injected into the legitimate app used by Ukrainian military to streamline the previously manual process of configuring their older Soviet-era D-30 Howitzer weapon systems, reducing the time to set a target from minutes to under 15 seconds.

The app was available via various online forums and is used by more than 9,000 Ukrainian artillery soldiers. Dmitri Alperovitch, co- founder and CTO of Crowdstrike, says the discovery provides "more conclusive" evidence of a connection between Fancy Bear and the GRU, Russia's military intelligence arm. "And it shows fascinating ways that Russia is using cyber to achieve an affect on the battlefield in Ukraine," he says. A Windows version of X-Agent was used in the DNC hack, allowing the attackers to remotely control the organization's servers and to steal documents and data, such as the internal emails that were later leaked online.

Crowdstrike also has seen iOS versions of the malware, all of which have been only used by Fancy Bear. "The source code is not publicly available, and we've never seen it before in any public or private" forum, Alperovitch says, which led Crowdstrike to conclude X-Agent is the handiwork of Fancy Bear. "We have high confidence that it's evident that whoever did the DNC hack is very closely and operationally linked to the Russian military, and most likely, the GRU," he says. Crowdstrike's new report comes amid a dispute between the incoming administration and the CIA and FBI, which have concluded that Russia was behind the DNC and other hacks and leaks in an effort to influence the outcome of the US presidential election. President-Elect Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed reports from the US intelligence and cybersecurity communities that Russia was behind the DNC hacks, and maintaining that it could be anyone behind the breaches, including "somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds." Alperovitch says with the same group of hackers targeting the Ukraine artillery and the DNC, the source is obvious: "One would have to ask the question, who would have an interest in that? It inevitably comes back to the Russian government," he says. The Cyber Battlefield The hijacked Android app basically lets Ukrainian artillery soldiers automate the process of determining settings for the older Howitzer weaponry, such as wind speed and elevation, in order to more accurately and rapidly operate them. "It was a pen-and-paper process that took minutes [to set up] before you could fire," Alperovitch says.

The app lets them plug in the coordinates, and it calculates the settings automatically. "Russia backdoored the app with X-Agent, giving them the location of anyone using the app" and engage them militarily, he says. According to Crowdstrike's report, publicly sourced reports show that Ukrainian artillery forces have suffered some major losses in the conflict with Russia. "Open source reporting indicates that Ukrainian artillery forces have lost over 50% of their weapons in the 2 years of conflict and over 80% of D-30 howitzers, the highest percentage of loss of any other artillery pieces in Ukraine's arsenal," the report said. "It's interesting that cyber is now migrating this way to the battlefield," Alperovitch says, and it's a "sign of more to come." Related Content: Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com.
She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ...
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‘DNC hackers’ used mobile malware to track Ukrainian artillery – researchers

Frontline battlefield operatives are Fandoids? The Russian hacking crew controversially linked to hacks against the Democrat Party during the US election allegedly used Android malware to track Ukrainian artillery units from late 2014 until 2016, according to new research. Threat intelligence firm CrowdStrike reckons that mobile malware was used to harvest communications and some locational data from infected devices. The operation provided intelligence in order to direct strikes against the artillery ranged against pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine. The mobile malware used in the op is a variant of a remote access tool used against the Democratic National Committee, according to CrowdStrike. X-Agent, the cross platform remote access toolkit in play in both ops, was developed by the "Fancy Bear" hacking group and used exclusively by them, according to the report. This and other similarities have allowed CrowdStrike to link the Ukrainian hacking operation to Fancy Bear (APT 28), a hacking crew linked by US intelligence to GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency. The filename "Попр-Д30.apk" of a malicious Android app used to carry out the spying is linked to a legitimate application which was initially developed domestically within Ukraine by an officer of the 55th Artillery Brigade, according to CrowdStrike. The legitimate app provided a targeting guide to using the D-30 122mm towed howitzer, a Soviet-era artillery piece that’s still in service. This is not something you’re going to find in regular app stores. More than 9,000 artillery personnel in the Ukrainian military used the application, according to the report. Fancy Bear’s X-Agent implant was covertly distributed on Ukrainian military forums within a legitimate Android application, according to CrowdStrike, which says the whole hacking pop bears the hallmarks of a military operation. Successful deployment of the Fancy Bear malware within this application may have facilitated reconnaissance against Ukrainian troops. The ability of this malware to retrieve communications and gross locational data from an infected device makes it an attractive way to identify the general location of Ukrainian artillery forces and engage them. "This cannot be a hands-off group or a bunch of criminals, they need to be in close communication with the Russian military," CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch told Reuters. ® Sponsored: Flash enters the mainstream. Visit The Register's storage hub