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APT 029

Also known as: Cozy Bear, The Dukes

Suspected attribution: Russian government

Target sectors: Western European governments, foreign policy groups and other similar organizations

Overview: APT29 is an adaptive and disciplined threat group that hides its activity on a victim’s network, communicating infrequently and in a way that closely resembles legitimate traffic. By using legitimate popular web services, the group can also take advantage of encrypted SSL connections, making detection even more difficult. APT29 is one of the most evolved and capable threat groups. It deploys new backdoors to fix its own bugs and add features. It monitors network defender activity to maintain control over systems. APT29 uses only compromised servers for CnC communication. It counters attempts to remediate attacks. It also maintains a fast development cycle for its malware, quickly altering tools to hinder detection.

Associated malware: HAMMERTOSS, TDISCOVER, UPLOADER, POSHSPY

Attack vectors: APT29 has used social media sites such as Twitter or GitHub, as well as cloud storage services, to relay commands and extract data from compromised networks. The group relays commands via images containing hidden and encrypted data. Information is extracted from a compromised network and files are uploaded to cloud storage services.

Characteristics and techniques

Kaspersky Lab determined that the earliest samples of Miniduke are from 2008.[1] The original Miniduke malware was written in assembler.[8] Symantec believes that Cozy Bear had been compromising diplomatic organizations and governments since at least 2010.[9] Cozy Bear appears to have different projects, with different user groups. The focus of its project "Nemesis Gemina" is military, government, energy, diplomatic and telecom sectors.[8]

The CozyDuke malware utilises a backdoor and a dropper. The malware exfiltrates data to a command and control server. Attackers may tailor the malware to the environment.[1] The backdoor components of Cozy Bear's malware are updated over time with modifications to cryptography, trojan functionality, and anti-detection. The speed at which Cozy Bear develops and deploys its components is reminiscent of the toolset of Fancy Bear, which also uses the tools CHOPSTICK and CORESHELL.[10]

Cozy Bear's CozyDuke malware toolset is structurally and functionally similar to second stage components used in early Miniduke, Cosmicduke, and OnionDuke operations. A second stage module of the CozyDuke malware, Show.dll, appears to have been built onto the same platform as OnionDuke, suggesting that the authors are working together or are the same people.[10] The campaigns and the malware toolsets they use are referred to as the Dukes, including Cosmicduke, Cozyduke, and Miniduke.[9] CozyDuke is connected to the MiniDuke and CosmicDuke campaigns, as well as to the OnionDuke cyberespionage campaign. Each threat group tracks their targets and use toolsets that were likely created and updated by Russian speakers.[1] Following exposure of the MiniDuke in 2013, updates to the malware were written in C/C++ and it was packed with a new obfuscator.[8]

Attacks (Wikipedia)

Office monkeys (2014)

In March 2014, a Washington, D.C.-based private research institute was found to have Cozyduke (Trojan.Cozer) on their network. Cozy Bear then started an email campaign attempting to lure victims into clicking on a flash video of office monkeys that would also include malicious executables.[9][1] By July the group had compromised government networks and directed Cozyduke-infected systems to install Miniduke onto a compromised network.[9]

In the summer of 2014, digital agents of the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service infiltrated Cozy Bear. They found that these Russian hackers were targeting the US Democratic Party, State Department and White House. Their evidence influenced the FBI’s decision to open an investigation.[4]

Pentagon (August 2015)

In August 2015 Cozy Bear was linked to a spear-phishing cyber-attack against the Pentagon email system causing the shut down of the entire Joint Staff unclassified email system and Internet access during the investigation.[12][13]

Democratic National Committee (2016)

In June 2016, Cozy Bear was implicated alongside the hacker group Fancy Bear in the Democratic National Committee cyber attacks.[2] While the two groups were both present in the Democratic National Committee's servers at the same time, they appeared to be unaware of the other, each independently stealing the same passwords and otherwise duplicating their efforts.[14] A CrowdStrike forensic team determined that while Cozy Bear had been on the DNC's network for over a year, Fancy Bear had only been there a few weeks.[15] Cozy Bear's more sophisticated tradecraft and interest in traditional long-term espionage suggest that the group originates from a separate Russian intelligence agency.[14]

US think tanks and NGOs (2016)

After the United States presidential election, 2016, Cozy Bear was linked to a series of coordinated and well-planned spear phishing campaigns against U.S.-based think tanks and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).[16]

Norwegian Government (2017)

On February 3, 2017, the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) reported that attempts had been made to spearphish the email accounts of nine individuals in the Ministry of DefenceMinistry of Foreign Affairs, and the Labour Party. The acts were attributed to Cozy Bear, whose targets included the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, PST section chief Arne Christian Haugstøyl, and an unnamed college. Prime Minister Erna Solberg called the acts "a serious attack on our democratic institutions."[17] The attacks were reportedly conducted in January 2017.[18]

Dutch ministries (2017)

On February 2017, it was revealed that Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear had made several attempts to hack into Dutch ministries, including the Ministry of General Affairs, over the previous six months. Rob Bertholee, head of the AIVD, said on EenVandaag that the hackers were Russian and had tried to gain access to secret government documents.[19]

In a briefing to parliament, Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk announced that votes for the Dutch general election in March 2017 would be counted by hand.[20]