Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


07:30 PM
Connect Directly

MiniDuke, CosmicDuke APT Group Likely Sponsored By Russia

F-Sure's look at the Dukes' seven years of attack campaigns and impressive portfolio of malware suggests stable financial backing, interest in Russian foreign policy, and no fear of getting caught.

The masterminds behind MiniDuke may be sponsored by the Russian Federation and have been operating since at least 2008, according to a report released today by F-Secure.

Researchers at the Finnish security firm stop short of officially assigning attribution, though. "We are unable to conclusively prove responsibility of any specific country for the Dukes. All of the available evidence however does in our opinion suggest that the group operates on behalf of the Russian Federation. Further, we are currently unaware of any evidence disproving this theory," the F-Secure report says.

Researchers deduce that "the Dukes" are state-sponsored because their activities suggest they have been stealing information and have had significant, stable financial backing over the past seven years. Over this time, the group has developed an entire portfolio of sophisticated infostealing malware (with variants), and used them concurrently or in cooperation with one another. The portfolio includes:

  • PinchDuke, infostealer in operation from 2008-2010, based on Pinch credential stealer
  • GeminiDuke, infostealer that mostly looks for system configuration data, in operation from 2009-2012
  • CosmicDuke, infostealer that includes privilege escalation exploits, in operation since 2010
  • MiniDuke, backdoor and loader, which sometimes uses Twitter for command-and-control, in operation since 2010
  • CozyDuke, modular malware platform that attackers can use to adapt malware to their mission, by downloading modules from command-and-control server, in operation since 2010
  • OnionDuke, modular malware platform, spread via malicious TOR exit node and torrent sites, in operation since 2013
  • SeaDuke, a backdoor, spread only via CozyDuke, written in Python, in operation since 2014
  • HammerDuke (AKA HammerToss, NetDuke), another backdoor spread via CozyDuke, this one written in .NET, in operation since January
  • CloudDuke, a malware toolset with two backdoor variants -- one that retrieves commands from a command-and-control server, and one that uses Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage to communicate with its masters -- in operation since June.

Over the past seven years, the Dukes' work was sometimes revealed by security researchers and reported by the media, but as F-Secure points out, the Dukes did not seem particularly concerned. Instead of going underground, entirely retiring attack tools, or employing greater stealth mechanisms, the Dukes chose continued operations over stealth, according to F-Secure.

"This apparent disregard for publicity suggests, in our opinion, that the benefactors of the Dukes is so powerful and so tightly connected to the group that they are able to operate with no apparent fear of repercussions on getting caught," F-Secure says in its report. "We believe the only benefactor with the power to offer such comprehensive protection would be the government of the nation from which the group operates. We therefore believe the Dukes to work either within or directly for a government, thus ruling out the possibility of a criminal gang or another third party."

If state-sponsored, then what state? According to researchers, the targets are all of interest to Russian foreign policy, and the decoy documents used in spearphishing messages against attack targets support that.

For example, shortly after the U.S. declared its intent to establish a missile defense base in Poland, a PinchDuke campaign targeted Poland, the Czech Republich, and an American think tank, and used decoys related to NATO exercises. Leading up to -- but not after -- the Ukrainian revolution in early 2014, the decoys were largely related to Ukraine, including letters undersigned by the First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, a letter from the embassy of the Netherlands in Ukraine to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign affairs and a document titled “Ukraine’s Search for a Regional Foreign Policy."

The authors of the malware also appeared to work primarily between the hours of 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Moscow time.

"The research details the connections between the malware and tactics used in these attacks to what we understand to be Russian resources and interests," says Artturi Lehtiö, an F-Secure researcher. "These connections provide evidence that helps establish where the attacks originated from, what they were after, how they were executed, and what the objectives were. And all the signs point back to Russian state-sponsorship."

Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad ... View Full Bio

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/10/2020
Researcher Finds New Office Macro Attacks for MacOS
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  8/7/2020
Lock-Pickers Face an Uncertain Future Online
Seth Rosenblatt, Contributing Writer,  8/10/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: They said you could use Zoom anywhere.......
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
A timeout during a TLS handshake can result in the connection failing to terminate. This can result in a Niagara thread hanging and requires a manual restart of Niagara (Versions,,, and Niagara Enterprise Security (Versions 2.4.31, 2.4.45, to corr...
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
An issue was discovered on Spirent TestCenter and Avalanche appliance admin interface firmware. An attacker, who already has access to an SSH restricted shell, can achieve root access via shell metacharacters. The attacker can then, for example, read sensitive files such as appliance admin configura...
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
For GitLab before 13.0.12, 13.1.6, 13.2.3 a denial of service exists in the project import feature
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
For GitLab before 13.0.12, 13.1.6, 13.2.3 user controlled git configuration settings can be modified to result in Server Side Request Forgery.
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
A SQL injection vulnerability at a tpf URI in Loway QueueMetrics before 19.10.21 allows remote authenticated attackers to execute arbitrary SQL commands via the TPF_XPAR1 parameter.