Malware Hijacks Microphones to Spy On Ukrainian Businesses, Scientists and Media

February 20, 2017

Ukraine has once again been a target of a potential hacking attack that infected computer systems from dozens of Ukrainian businesses with highly sophisticated malware, allowing hackers to exfiltrate sensitive data and eavesdrop on their network.

Late last year, the country also suffered a power outage caused by the same group of hackers that targeted Ukraine’s power grid with the BlackEnergy malware in late 2015, causing 225,000 residents to lose electricity.

Now security researchers from threat intelligence firm CyberX have uncovered an advanced malware-based operation that has already siphoned over 600 gigabytes of data from about 70 victim organizations, including critical infrastructure, news media, and scientific research.

Dubbed “Operation BugDrop,” the large-scale malware campaign has been perpetrated against targets in the Ukraine, though targets from other countries include Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Austria.

CyberX researchers did not identify the clandestine hacking collective but said Operation BugDrop was believed to be the work of highly skilled, government-backed nation-state hackers with nearly limitless resources.

“Operation BugDrop is a well-organized operation that employs sophisticated malware and appears to be backed by an organization with substantial resources,” reads the CyberX blog post published Wednesday.

“In particular, the operation requires a massive back-end infrastructure to store, decrypt, and analyze several GB per day of unstructured data that is being captured from its targets. A large team of human analysts is also required to manually sort through captured data and process it manually and/or with Big Data-like analytics.”

Here’s What the Malware Does:

Operation BugDrop uses sophisticated malware that has been designed to infiltrate the victim’s computer and capture screen shots, documents, and passwords, and turn on the PC’s microphone to capture audio recordings of all conversations.

The mysterious hacking group infects victims using malicious Microsoft Word documents sent in phishing emails. Once infected, the compromised PCs send the pilfered audio and data to Dropbox, where the hackers retrieve it.

Since the malware uses PC microphones to bug targets and then send the audio and other data files to Dropbox, the researchers have dubbed the malware campaign Operation BugDrop.

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