Russia’s infamous APT 29, aka Cozy Bear, was behind the SolarWinds Orion attack, the US and UK governments said today as America slapped sanctions on Russian infosec companies as well as expelling diplomats from that country’s US embassy.
One of the sanctioned companies is Positive Technologies, familiar in the West for, among other things, in-depth research exposing vulnerabilities in Intel’s hardware security architecture.
The compromise saw Russian state intelligence operatives carefully compromise the build systems of SolarWinds’ network monitoring software Orion to distribute a backdoor into its 18,000 customers. Those customers included the UK and US governments, among many others
“The Russian Intelligence Services’ third arm, the SVR, is responsible for the 2020 exploit of the SolarWinds Orion platform and other information technology infrastructures. This intrusion compromised thousands of US government and private sector networks,” said the US Treasury.
The American attribution was echoed by the British government with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying in a statement: “We see what Russia is doing to undermine our democracies. The UK and US are calling out Russia’s malicious behaviour, to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action.”
The US Defence Department added: “Recent Russian SVR activities include compromising SolarWinds Orion software updates, targeting COVID-19 research facilities through deploying WellMess malware, and leveraging a VMware vulnerability that was a zero-day at the time for follow-on Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) authentication abuse.”
The NCSC also said in a public statement that “the overall impact on the UK of the SVR’s exploitation of this software is low.” Government departments have refused to even talk about the impact of the Orion compromise despite it being in widespread use around Whitehall and further afield, lending credibility to the notion that UK.gov was more widely hit by the breach than it wants to admit.
Other sanctioned outfits included ERA Technopolis, aka Pasit; Neobit, an infosec firm which was also the alma mater for a Russian spy who sneaked into Microsoft back in 2010; the Russian state compsci research institution; and a Russian business called Advanced System Technology AO.
US persons are banned from doing business with any of the above.