Researchers Say Destructive Wiper Dubbed ‘Olympic Destroyer’ Hits Pyeonchang
Hackers appear to have crashed the Winter Olympics by using destructive malware.
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On Friday, shortly before the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea, the official Pyeongchang 2018 site stopped working, leaving attendees unable to print tickets. In addition, the WiFi in Pyeonchang Olympic stadium stopped working, as did televisions and internet access in the main press center, the Guardian first reported. It said the website wasn’t restored until 12 hours later, on Saturday morning.
In a statement, organizers said only “noncritical systems” had been impacted and that “all competitions are running as planned.”
The Winter Olympics run from Feb. 9 to 25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
In the run up to the Olympics, officials in South Korea voiced concerns that North Korea might attempt to disrupt the games via hack attacks. But North Korea is participating in the games, and it sent a delegation led by Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of leader Kim Jong Un, who immediately made diplomatic overtures to Seoul.
Some commentators noted that individuals affiliated with Russia would be obvious suspects, because the International Olympic Committee banned Russian athletes from competing because of doping violations (see Hackers Dump US Olympic Athletes’ Drug-Testing Results). Cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike on Monday says it’s seen signs that Russia may indeed have been behind the disruption.
Regardless of the culprit, by Sunday, Olympics organizers confirmed to the Guardian that the event had been targeted by hackers.
“There was a cyberattack and the server was updated yesterday during the day and we have the cause of the problem,” said Pyeongchang 2018 spokesman Sung Baik-you, who added that attempted disruptions were not unusual during the Olympic Games.
He declined to speculate over who might have launched the attack. “We are not going to reveal the source,” he said. “We are taking secure operations and, in line with best practice, we’re not going to comment on the issue because it is an issue that we are dealing with.”
Outside Analysis: Wiper Malware Suspected
Information security researchers at Cisco’s Talos group say they identified the malware used in the attack “with moderate confidence” although they say it’s unclear how the malicious code infected IOC systems.
“The samples identified, however, are not from adversaries looking for information from the games but instead they are aimed to disrupt the games,” Talos security researchers Warren Mercer and Paul Rascagnères write in a Monday blog post. “The samples analyzed appear to perform only destructive functionality. There does not appear to be any exfiltration of data.”
They say the malware is designed to delete shadow copies in Windows and to spread via PsExec (psexec.exe) and Windows Management Instrumentation (wmic.exe), which are legitimate tools built into Windows. Such functionality has been seen with both the NotPetya and BadRabbit attacks (see Teardown of ‘NotPetya’ Malware: Here’s What We Know).
Winter Olympic disruption occurred over the weekend as reported by @guardian newspaper. Today @r00tbsd and I dissect the malware we believe was used during this attack in our latest post about a destructive piece of malware we call #OlympicDestroyer https://t.co/3d8nMf2jAZ
— Warren Mercer (@SecurityBeard) February 12, 2018
The researchers say the first stage of what they dubbed as “Olympic Destroyer” malware drops multiple executable files onto an infected system, including a browser credential stealer – designed to retrieve stored credentials. It also drops a system credential stealer designed to steal legitimate credentials from Windows Local Security Authority Subsystem Service, or LSASS, in a technique that resembles one used by Mimikatz, an open source Windows security tool, they say.
During the initial infection stage, the malware also attempts to move laterally across the network by copying itself to remote systems reachable via the network. “The malware author knew a lot of technical details of the Olympic Game infrastructure,such as username, domain name, server name and obviously password,” the researchers write. “We identified 44 individual accounts in the binary.”
The initial infection also drops a destructive wiper on the infected system designed to delete backup files, leave systems unbootable and then shut down.
The attack appears to have been highly targeted. “Basically it’s another automated lateral movement wiper, which absolutely intends to make systems unbootable and wipe backups. Interesting they hard coded credentials – stops it spreading around world,” tweets U.K.-based information security researcher Kevin Beaumont.
Likely Goal: Embarrassment
The Cisco Talos researchers say attackers likely gained access to the targeted environment before unleashing the wiper to ensure they could time it to coincide with Friday’s opening ceremony.
“Disruption is the clear objective in this type of attack and it leaves us confident in thinking that the actors behind this were after embarrassment of the Olympic committee during the opening ceremony,” they write.
Meanwhile, Darien Huss, a targeted threat researcher Proofpoint, says that one of the filenames in the malware is “evtchk.txt,” which also appeared in the malware that was used to hack the central bank of Bangladesh, as documented in April 2016 by Sergei Shevchenko, a security researcher at BAE Systems (see Report: DOJ Sees Bangladesh Heist Tie to North Korea).
The evtchk.txt filename in Olympic Destroyer is interesting, just remembered where I have seen similar before (Bluenoroff SWIFT): https://t.co/T6Zloa9EPQ https://t.co/GOFfmupU1j Maybe just a coincidence though cc: @r00tbsd @SecurityBeard pic.twitter.com/3D4AeyWtT1
— Darien Huss (@darienhuss) February 12, 2018
“Maybe just a coincidence though,” Huss says.
Signs of Fancy Bear
Additional evidence suggests the attack was launched by attackers affiliated by Russia. “CrowdStrike research has identified that the malware samples discovered all share the same PE build timestamp of 2017-12-27 11:39:22 UTC and contain sets of hardcoded credentials that allow them to propagate in a target network,” Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at cybersecurity CrowdStrike tells Information Security Media Group.
Meyers says CrowdStrike “observed credential harvesting activity against an entity operating in the international sporting sector and attributed it to Russian threat actor Fancy Bear with medium confidence.”
Fancy Bear is the company’s name for a group of APT attackers – also known as APT28, Group 74, Pawn Storm, Sofacy, Strontium and Tsar Team – with apparent ties to Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit (see Microsoft Battles Fancy Bear Hackers – With Lawyers).