Security firn F-Secure has released a new whitepaper commonly referred to as "the Dukes" - a well-resourced, highly dedicated, and organized cyber-espionage group that has been working for the Russian government since at least 2008 to collect intelligence in support of foreign and security policy decision-making. The Dukes (sometimes also referred to as APT29) are known to employ a wide arsenal of malware toolsets including MiniDuke, CosmicDuke, OnionDuke, CozyDuke, SeaDuke, CloudDuke (aka MiniDionis), and HammerDuke.
The Dukes primarily target Western governments and related organizations, such as government ministries and agencies, political think tanks, and governmental subcontractors. Their targets have also included the governments of members of the Commonwealth of Independent States; Asian, African, and Middle Eastern governments; organizations associated with Chechen extremism; and Russian speakers engaged in the illicit trade of controlled substances and drugs.
According to the report, the Dukes have engaged in apparently biannual large-scale spear-phishing campaigns against hundreds or even thousands of recipients associated with governmental institutions and affiliated organizations. These campaigns utilize a smash-and-grab approach involving a fast but noisy break-in followed by the rapid collection and exfiltration of as much data as possible. If the compromised target is discovered to be of value, the Dukes will quickly switch the toolset used and move to using stealthier tactics focused on persistent compromise and long-term intelligence gathering.
In addition to these large-scale campaigns, the Dukes continuously and concurrently engage in smaller, much more targeted campaigns, utilizing different toolsets. These targeted campaigns have been going on for at least 7 years. The targets and timing of these campaigns appear to align with the known foreign and security policy interests of the Russian Federation at those times.
The Dukes rapidly react to research being published about their toolsets and operations. However, the group (or their sponsors) value their operations so highly that though they will attempt to modify their tools to evade detection and regain stealth, they will not cease operations to do so, but will instead incrementally modify their tools while continuing apparently as previously planned.
In some of the most extreme cases, the Dukes have been known to engage in
campaigns with unaltered versions of tools that only days earlier have been brought to the public’s attention by security companies and actively mentioned in the media. In doing so, the Dukes show unusual confidence in their ability to continue successfully compromising their targets even when their tools have been publicly exposed, as well as in their ability to operate with impunity.