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The DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has issued a warning to all organizations in the United States to take immediate steps to prepare for attempted cyberattacks involving a new wiper malware that has been used in targeted attacks on government agencies, non-profits, and information technology organizations in Ukraine.
The malware – dubbed Whispergate – masquerades as ransomware and generates a ransom note when executed; however, the malware lacks the capabilities to allow files to be recovered. Whispergate consists of a Master Boot Record (MBR) wiper, a file corruption, and a Discord-based downloader. The MBR is the section of the hard drive that identifies how and where an operating system is located. Wiping the MBR will brick an infected device by making the hard drive inaccessible.
The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) has recently performed an analysis of the new malware. The first stage of the malware, typically called stage1.exe, wipes the MBR and prevents the operating system from loading. The malware is executed when an infected device is powered down and generates the ransom note. The second stage of the malware, stage2.exe, is a file corruptor that runs in the memory and corrupts files based on hardcoded file extensions to prevent the files from being recovered.
The attacks have so far been conducted on targets in Ukraine, but there is a risk of much broader attacks. Wiper malware such as this has been used to attack organizations in Ukraine in the past and in much broader attacks worldwide. In 2017, the NotPetya wiper was used to attack organizations in Ukraine and was delivered in a supply chain attack via legitimate tax software. NotPetya attacks were also conducted globally causing major damage to IT systems and significant data loss. NotPetya is believed to have been used by a Russian hacking group known as Voodoo Bear/Sandworm.
The current theory of the Ukrainian government is the attacks are being conducted by an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group known to have strong links with Belarus. There is a legitimate concern that similar attacks may occur in the United States using Whispergate, especially on critical infrastructure organizations and companies with links to Ukraine.
CISA has issued an Insights bulletin providing information on steps that can be taken to protect against the malware threat and reduce the likelihood of a damaging cyber intrusion. The bulletin also includes guidance on how to quickly detect and respond to a potential intrusion, and how to maximize resilience to a destructive cyber threat.