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U.S. disrupts botnet of 500,000 hacked routers

Staff Writer |
The Justice Department announced an effort to disrupt a global botnet of hundreds of thousands of infected home and office (SOHO) routers and other networked devices under the control of a group of actors known as the “Sofacy Group” (also known as “apt28,” “sandworm,” “x-agent,” “pawn storm,” “fancy bear” and “sednit”).

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The group, which has been operating since at least in or about 2007, targets government, military, security organizations, and other targets of perceived intelligence value.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Assistant Director Scott Smith for the FBI’s Cyber Division and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Johnson of the Pittsburgh Division made the announcement.

The botnet, referred to by the FBI and cyber security researchers as “VPNFilter,” targets SOHO routers and network-access storage (NAS) devices, which are hardware devices made up of several hard drives used to store data in a single location that can be accessed by multiple users.

The VPNFilter botnet uses several stages of malware. Although the second stage of malware, which has the malicious capabilities described above, can be cleared from a device by rebooting it, the first stage of malware persists through a reboot, making it difficult to prevent reinfection by the second stage.

In order to identify infected devices and facilitate their remediation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania applied for and obtained court orders, authorizing the FBI to seize a domain that is part of the malware’s command-and-control infrastructure.

This will redirect attempts by stage one of the malware to reinfect the device to an FBI-controlled server, which will capture the Internet Protocol (IP) address of infected devices, pursuant to legal process.

A non-profit partner organization, The Shadowserver Foundation, will disseminate the IP addresses to those who can assist with remediating the VPNFilter botnet, including foreign CERTs and internet service providers (ISPs).

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have also jointly notified trusted ISPs.

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