A Russian hacking group probably working for the government has been exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spy on NATO, the Ukrainian government, a U.S. university researcher and other national security targets, according to a new report.
The group has been active since at least 2009, according to research by iSight Partners, a cybersecurity firm. Its targets in the recent campaign also included a Polish energy firm, a Western European government agency and a French telecommunications firm.
“This is consistent with espionage activity,” said iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward. “All indicators from a targeting and lures perspective would indicate espionage with Russian national interests.”
There is no indication that the group was behind a recent spate of intrusions into U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Ward said.
The Russian government has denied similar allegations of cyberespionage in the past. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials, nonetheless, say the capabilities of Russian hackers are on par with those of the United States and Israel.
“It’s possible they’ve become more active in response to the Ukrainian situation,” said a former intelligence official. “And when you become more active, you increase your likelihood of getting caught.”
ISight dubbed the recently detected hacking group SandWorm because of references embedded in its code to the science-fiction novel “Dune.” There were various mentions in Russian to the fictional desert planet of Arrakis, for instance.