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COURT DOC: Justice Department Conducts Court-Authorized Disruption of Botnet Controlled by the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU)

February 16, 2024

“A January 2024 court-authorized operation has neutralized a network of hundreds of small office/home office (SOHO) routers that GRU Military Unit 26165, also known as APT 28, Sofacy Group, Forest Blizzard, Pawn Storm, Fancy Bear, and Sednit, used to conceal and otherwise enable a variety of crimes. These crimes included vast spearphishing and similar credential harvesting campaigns against targets of intelligence interest to the Russian government, such as U.S. and foreign governments and military, security, and corporate organizations. In recent months, allegations of Unit 26165 activity of this type has been the subject of a private sector cybersecurity advisory and a Ukrainian government warning.”

“This botnet was distinct from prior GRU and Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) malware networks disrupted by the Department in that the GRU did not create it from scratch. Instead, the GRU relied on the ‘Moobot’ malware, which is associated with a known criminal group. Non-GRU cybercriminals installed the Moobot malware on Ubiquiti Edge OS routers that still used publicly known default administrator passwords. GRU hackers then used the Moobot malware to install their own bespoke scripts and files that repurposed the botnet, turning it into a global cyber espionage platform.”

“The Department’s court-authorized operation leveraged the Moobot malware to copy and delete stolen and malicious data and files from compromised routers. Additionally, in order to neutralize the GRU’s access to the routers until victims can mitigate the compromise and reassert full control, the operation reversibly modified the routers’ firewall rules to block remote management access to the devices, and during the course of the operation, enabled temporary collection of non-content routing information that would expose GRU attempts to thwart the operation.”

“As described in court documents, the government extensively tested the operation on the relevant Ubiquiti Edge OS routers. Other than stymieing the GRU’s ability to access to the routers, the operation did not impact the routers’ normal functionality or collect legitimate user content information. Additionally, the court-authorized steps to disconnect the routers from the Moobot network are temporary in nature; users can roll back the firewall rule changes by undertaking factory resets of their routers or by accessing their routers through their local network (e.g., via the routers’ web-based user interface). However, a factory reset that is not also accompanied by a change of the default administrator password will return the router to its default administrator credentials, leaving the router open to reinfection or similar compromises.” (Source: US Department of Justice)

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