Hackers managed to compromise the Ukrainian energy ministry website, encrypt files, and post a ransom demand.
Although Ukraine has been heavily hit by global malware outbreaks over the last year, including WannaCry, NotPetya, and Bad Rabbit, the recent incident appears isolated and by no means the work of state-sponsored actors, security experts say.
In fact, the assault is believed to have been orchestrated by amateur hackers, who possibly didn’t even know what website they compromised.
“It appears that this attack was from someone (or a group) who uses automation to mass scan and then compromise vulnerable websites with ransomware. It is likely that the operators of this did not know that they were going to compromise this website going into it,” James Lerud, head of the Behavioural Research Team at Verodin, told SecurityWeek in an emailed comment.
After gaining access to the website, the attackers encrypted resources and posted a message demanding a 0.1 Bitcoin (around $930 at today’s exchange rate) payment to decrypt the files.
Matt Walmsley, EMEA Director at Vectra, pointed out to SecurityWeek that there’s no evidence that the ministry’s internal systems or data has been breached. Only the web-facing service has been compromised in what appears to have been cyber-vandalism or low-level cybercrime unlikely to generate any significant monetary gain, Walmsley said.
According to Chris Doman, security researcher at AlienVault, who provided SecurityWeek with a screenshot of the compromised website, multiple miscreants appear to have hit the domain as part of the attack.
“What has probably happened here is that a hacktivist has hacked the site for fun, then the criminal ransomware attacker has used their backdoor (which you can see at the bottom of the page) to try and make some money. They appear to have done the same with a Russian website,” Doman said.
The payment address included in the ransom note has already received some payments, supposedly from the owners of previously compromised sites in 2017. However, it appears that the attackers only made a bit over $100 for their efforts.
Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at Thycotic, suggests that the attackers might be currently testing their abilities, likely in preparation for a larger campaign.
“It’s very likely that the cybercriminals behind this recent cyberattack against the Ukrainian Energy Ministry are testing their new skills in order to improve for a bigger cyberattack later or to get acceptance into a new underground cyber group that requires showing a display of skills and ability,” he said.
The security experts agree that the attack wasn’t the work of sophisticated actors, but the manner in which the website was compromised in the first place remains a mystery.
The website was using Drupal 7 and Lerud suggests that the site admins didn’t take the necessary precautions to lock down the site.
“Drupal 7 also had a massive vulnerability known as ‘Drupalgeddon 2’ which was announced March 28th; if the website owners did not patch it is entirely possible this is how the ransomware got in,” Lerud said.