A hacking group from Russia used a malware implant on Android devices to track and target Ukrainian artillery units from late 2014 through 2016, according to a new report released Thursday.
The malware was able to retrieve communications and some locational data from infected devices, intelligence that would have likely been used to strike against the artillery in support of pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, the report from cyber security firm CrowdStrike found.
Russia has repeatedly denied hacking accusations, and Trump has also dismissed the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community.
The malware used to track Ukrainian artillery units was a variant of the kind used to hack into the Democratic National Committee, CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch said in an interview. That link, in addition to the high rate of losses sustained by the type of Ukrainian artillery units targeted by hackers, creates high confidence that Fancy Bear was responsible for the implant, he said.
The malware was able to retrieve communications and some location data from infected devices as approximately 9,000 artillery personnel used the application.
“The collection of such tactical artillery force positioning intelligence by Fancy Bear further supports CrowdStrike’s previous assessments that the group is likely affiliated with the Russian military intelligence (GRU), and works closely with Russian military forces operating in Eastern Ukraine and its border regions in Russia,” the report from cyber security firm said.
The key points of this report from CrowdStrike are:
- From late 2014 and through 2016, FANCY BEAR X-Agent implant was covertly distributed on Ukrainian military forums within a legitimate Android application developed by Ukrainian artillery officer Yaroslav Sherstuk.
- The original application enabled artillery forces to more rapidly process targeting data for the Soviet-era D-30 Howitzer employed by Ukrainian artillery forces reducing targeting time from minutes to under 15 seconds. According to Sherstuk’s interviews with the press, over 9000 artillery personnel have been using the application in Ukrainian military.
- Successful deployment of the FANCY BEAR malware within this application may have facilitated reconnaissance against Ukrainian troops. The ability of this malware to retrieve communications and gross locational data from an infected device makes it an attractive way to identify the general location of Ukrainian artillery forces and engage them.
- Open source reporting indicates that Ukrainian artillery forces have lost over 50% of their weapons in the 2 years of conflict and over 80% of D-30 howitzers, the highest percentage of loss of any other artillery pieces in Ukraine’s arsenal.
- This previously unseen variant of X-Agent represents FANCY BEAR’s expansion in mobile malware development from iOS-capable implants to Android devices, and reveals one more component of the broad spectrum approach to cyber operations taken by Russia-based actors in the war in Ukraine.
- The collection of such tactical artillery force positioning intelligence by FANCY BEAR further supports CrowdStrike’s previous assessments that FANCY BEAR is likely affiliated with the Russian military intelligence (GRU), and works closely with Russian military forces operating in Eastern Ukraine and its border regions in Russia.
The security company said that the malware was likely associated with Russian military intelligence, working in concert with Russian and pro-Russian forces in east Ukraine.