Who Is Behind Petya?

The main suspect behind the recent global ransomware attack is a hacking group with suspected ties to Russia and a history of launching destructive computer viruses, according to research conducted by Czech cybersecurity firm ESET.

The company has pegged the attack to a group known as Telebots or Sandworm.
“The TeleBots group continues to evolve in order to conduct disruptive attacks against Ukraine. Instead of spear-phishing emails with documents containing malicious macros, they used a more sophisticated scheme known as a supply-chain attack,” writes Anton Cherepanov, a senior malware researcher with ESET, in a blog post. 
“The latest outbreak was directed against businesses in Ukraine, but they apparently underestimated the malware’ spreading capabilities.”

While the spread of so-called PetrWrap or NotPetya turned into global news as thousands of computers were locked down by the virus, the incident plays into a larger and already established narrative of hackers repeatedly using wiper malware and defunct ransomware, code designed to destroy or effectively lock data, against targets in Ukraine.

Researchers have attributed some of these past attacks, which share certain commonalities with PetrWrap, to Telebots. ESET pointed to three separate incidents recently in a report that ties PetrWrap to previous Telebots’ exploits. Analysts discovered that PetrWrap carries code that aligns with the tactics, techniques, and procedures of the Russian hacking group. For example, in December 2016, Telebots launched an operation to spread ransomware in Ukraine that similarly provided no avenue for victims to pay off the hackers, and which included KillDisk malware to destroy files. 

Instead of a ransom note with instructions displayed on affected computers’ screens, the malware offered a useless picture of a logo popularised by a television show.
“In the final stage of its attacks, the TeleBots group always used the KillDisk malware to overwrite files with specific file extensions on the victims’ disks,” ESET said of the December 2016 incident. 
“Putting the cart before the horse: collecting ransom money was never the top priority for the TeleBots group.”

Earlier this year, between January and March 2017, the same attack infrastructure was used to send more ransomware largely aimed at Ukrainian companies. In this incident, the malware offered a legible ransom note demanding an outrageous payment of $250,000 worth of bitcoin to unlock each computer.

Researchers believe that the lofty payment was a sign that the attack’s true intent was never financial. Notably, the January 2017 attack was able to spread inside localised computer networks by leveraging a pair of typically benign Microsoft system admin tools, named imikatz and SysInternals’ PsExec, for malicious purposes.

PetrWrap used these exact same tools, in addition to an NSA authored backdoor and exploit that was leaked to the public in April, to proliferate internationally. It’s believed that PetrWrap spread outside the country, because of VPN’s connecting of foreign businesses to, Ukrainian organisations.

Fit for Disruption 
Ukraine was the country hardest hit by PetrWrap, according to Kaspersky Lab. Evidence indicates that PetrWrap was engineered in such a way to specifically disrupt Ukrainian organisations and their affiliates. 

Experts are increasingly warming up to the idea that a nation state was involved in the launch of PetrWrap because of the fact that the ransomware itself is coded in a manner that makes it clear the authors favored disruption over financial gain.
Researchers from Cisco and Kaspersky Lab found that an infected update from accounting software company MeDoc provided the initial infection vector. MeDoc’s use is mandated by the Ukrainian government. In the past, a possibly compromised MeDoc update server carried telltale signs of Telebots activity, according to ESET.
“We identified a malicious PHP backdoor that was deployed under medoc_online.php in one of the FTP directories on M.E.Doc’s server,” ESET’s report notes. This server previously sent out a VBS backdoor that has been linked to TeleBots. The finding is significant because it underscores the fact that Telebots is familiar and capable of sending malware through MeDoc’s infrastructure.

After initially pushing back against claims that it’s software was responsible for a global ransomware outbreak, MeDoc stated that it is now conducting an investigation into the matter. Ukrainian police and the FBI are said to be involved.


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