New Russian cyberattack targets human rights orgs and government agencies in the US: report
Hacker and code interface (Shutterstock.com)

Less than seven months after the devastating Solarwinds hack was first reported, Microsoft on Thursday revealed a new cyberattack by the same group, Nobelium.

"This week we observed cyberattacks by the threat actor Nobelium targeting government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations. This wave of attacks targeted approximately 3,000 email accounts at more than 150 different organizations," Microsoft revealed.

"While organizations in the United States received the largest share of attacks, targeted victims span at least 24 countries. At least a quarter of the targeted organizations were involved in international development, humanitarian, and human rights work. Nobelium, originating from Russia, is the same actor behind the attacks on SolarWinds customers in 2020. These attacks appear to be a continuation of multiple efforts by Nobelium to target government agencies involved in foreign policy as part of intelligence gathering efforts," Microsoft explained.

Microsoft believes the attacks are notable for three reasons.

"First, when coupled with the attack on SolarWinds, it's clear that part of Nobelium's playbook is to gain access to trusted technology providers and infect their customers. By piggybacking on software updates and now mass email providers, Nobelium increases the chances of collateral damage in espionage operations and undermines trust in the technology ecosystem," Microsoft argued.

"Second, perhaps unsurprisingly, Nobelium's activities and that of similar actors tend to track with issues of concern to the country from which they are operating. This time Nobelium targeted many humanitarian and human rights organizations. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Russian actor Strontium targeted healthcare organizations involved in vaccines. In 2019, Strontium targeted sporting and anti-doping organizations. And we've previously disclosed activity by Strontium and other actors targeting major elections in the U.S. and elsewhere," Microsoft explained. "This is yet another example of how cyberattacks have become the tool of choice for a growing number of nation-states to accomplish a wide variety of political objectives, with the focus of these attacks by Nobelium on human rights and humanitarian organizations."

"Third, nation-state cyberattacks aren't slowing. We need clear rules governing nation-state conduct in cyberspace and clear expectations of the consequences for violation of those rules. We must continue to rally around progress made by the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, and more widely adopt the recommendations of the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, and the CyberPeace Institute. But, we need to do more. Microsoft will continue to work with willing governments and the private sector to advance the cause of digital peace," Microsoft vowed.