Russian state-sponsored hackers, identified as APT29 or Cozy Bear, have carried out a cyber-espionage campaign targeting embassies and international organizations, as revealed by Ukrainian government cybersecurity researchers. This operation, analyzed by Ukraine’s National Cyber Security Coordination Center (NCSCC), occurred in September and aimed at infiltrating embassy entities, primarily targeting diplomatic accounts associated with foreign affairs ministries in Azerbaijan and Italy. The hackers utilized similar tools and tactics observed in their previous campaign against embassies in Kyiv in April.
Furthermore, the campaign affected over 200 email addresses, with the primary targets being diplomatic accounts, particularly those linked to Azerbaijan and Italy’s foreign affairs ministries. The attackers, APT29 or Cozy Bear, exploited a recently discovered vulnerability in the widely used Windows file archiver tool WinRAR (CVE-2023-3883). The vulnerability allows attackers to execute arbitrary code through a specially crafted ZIP archive.
Additionally, Cozy Bear’s phishing emails, containing a link to a PDF document and a malicious ZIP file, leveraged the WinRAR vulnerability to potentially gain access to compromised systems. The attackers used a novel technique in this campaign, employing a legitimate tool called Ngrok, commonly used in web development, to obfuscate their activities and communicate with compromised systems, making detection and attribution more challenging.
Cozy Bear has a history of cyberattacks during the war in Ukraine, targeting the Ukrainian military, political parties, diplomatic agencies, think tanks, and nonprofit organizations. In April, they conducted a spying campaign against foreign ministries and diplomatic entities in NATO countries, the European Union, and Africa, using tactics similar to the September campaign.
The phishing emails, often impersonating European embassies, typically contained a malicious link or attached PDF, enticing the target diplomat to access the ambassador’s calendar. Cozy Bear was previously implicated in high-profile incidents, including the SolarWinds supply chain attack in 2020, resulting in widespread data breaches globally.