Malware researchers from ESET have conducted a new analysis of a backdoor used by the Russia-linked APT Turla in targeted espionage operations. The new analysis revealed a list of high-profile victims that was previously unknown. Turla is the name of a Russian cyber espionage APT group (also known as Waterbug, Venomous Bear and KRYPTON) that has been active since at least 2007 targeting government organizations and private businesses. The list of previously known victims is long and includes also the Swiss defense firm RUAG, US Department of State, and the US Central Command. In June 2016, researchers from Kaspersky reported that the Turla APT had started using rootkit), Epic Turla (Wipbot and Tavdig) and Gloog Turla.
ESET researchers tracking a notorious backdoor and cyberespionage campaign have warned that the list of government victims is far longer than previously thought -- and at least two new European offices have succumbed. The backdoor is the work of an advanced persistent threat (APT) group known as Turla. Turla has previously been linked to the Gazer malware family, which has been used against various government and diplomatic bodies in Europe before. Gazer was connected to watering hole attacks and spear-phishing campaigns targeting government entities and diplomats for the purpose of cyberespionage. In 2017, Turla was also connected to a backdoor implanted in Germany's Federal Foreign Office, where it was used to siphon confidential government information over the majority of the year.
A cyber espionage campaign is targeting the foreign ministry of a country in the European Union with the aid of a previously undocumented form of malware which provides a secret backdoor onto compromised Windows systems. Uncovered by cybersecurity researchers at ESET, the tools are designed to steal sensitive documents and other files by secretly exfiltrating them via Dropbox accounts controlled by the attackers. Dubbed Crutch by its developers, this malware campaign has been active from 2015 through to 2020 and researchers have linked it to the Turla hacking group, due to similarities with previously uncovered Turla campaigns such as Gazer. The working hours of the group also coincide with UTC 3, the timezone which Moscow sits in. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is among those which has attributed Turla – also known as Waterbug and Venomous Bear – to Russia.
Turla, one of the codenames given by the cyber-security industry to one of Russia's oldest and most "talented" cyber-espionage unit, has been very active in the past three years, even though their operations have not received the same media coverage of other more flashy Russian hacking outfits. According to new research presented yesterday at the Virus Bulletin security conference held in Montreal, Canada, the group has been behind dozens of hacks around the world, operating with revamped malware and a tendency towards runtime scripting and the usage of open source tools. "Turla was absent from the milestone DNC hack event where Sofacy [APT28] and CozyDuke [APT29] were both present, but Turla was quietly active around the globe on other projects," said Kaspersky's GReAT team in a report published shortly after the presentation. But while APT28 and APT29's loudmouth dissemination of the DNC hacked data has led to public inquiries into their ties to Russian intelligence agencies --which eventually led to several public indictments [1, 2, 3]-- Turla has remained the same mystery as it always was. Considered by many to be Russia's elite hacking unit, Turla is believed to have ties to Moonlight Maze, one of the first government-backed hacking operations ever discovered, back in the 90s.