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Microsoft identifies new hacking unit within Russian military intelligence


On Jan. 13, 2022, about five weeks before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian hackers carried out one of the first cyberattacks in the run-up to the conflict.

Posing as ransomware, the malware worked in two stages: First, it would overwrite the master boot record with a ransom note, pointing victims to a bitcoin wallet and demanding a relatively paltry $10,000 to recover corrupted files. Then it would download and deploy file corrupter malware, targeting files in particular directories to be overwritten. But the operation was a ruse: There was no way to recover the files.

Two days after the malware was deployed, Microsoft researchers published an analysis of the destructive tool, dubbing it WhisperGate. By May, officials in Ukraine, the United States and the United Kingdom attributed the attack to units working under Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

A year later, Microsoft researchers have determined that the unit behind that attack is an active and distinct group within the GRU, responsible for website defacements, destructive attacks, cyber espionage and hack-and-leak operations. In a report published Wednesday, Microsoft concludes that a group it is calling “Cadet Blizzard” is behind a wave of attacks since February 2023 targeting not only Ukraine, but also NATO member states providing military assistance to Ukraine.


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