Technical Analysis of the WhisperGate Malicious Bootloader
On Jan. 15, 2022, a set of malware dubbed WhisperGate was reported to have been deployed against Ukrainian targets. The incident is widely reported to contain three individual components deployed by the same adversary, including a malicious bootloader that corrupts detected local disks, a Discord-based downloader and a file wiper. The activity occurred at approximately the same time multiple websites belonging to the Ukrainian government were defaced.
This blog covers the malicious bootloader in more detail.
The installer component for the bootloader has an SHA256 hash of
and contains a build timestamp of 2022-01-10 10:37:18 UTC. It was built using MinGW, similar to the file-wiper component. This component overwrites the master boot record (MBR) of an infected host with a malicious 16-bit bootloader with a SHA256 hash of
that displays a ransom note when the host boots (Figure 1) and, at the same time, performs destructive operations on the infected host’s hard drives.
The destructive wiping operation has the following pseudocode:
for i_disk between 0 and total_detected_disk_count do for i_sector between 1 and total_disk_sector_count, i_sector += 199, do overwrite disk i_disk at sector i_sector with hardcoded data done done
At periodic offsets, the bootloader overwrites sectors of an infected host’s entire hard drive, with a message similar to the ransom note, padded with additional bytes (Figure 2).
The data consists of the string
AAAAA, the index of the infected drive, the ransom note and the MBR footer magic value
55 AA, followed by two null bytes.
The bootloader accesses the disk via BIOS interrupt
13h in logical block addressing (LBA) mode and overwrites every 199th sector until the end of the disk is reached. After a disk is corrupted, the malware overwrites the next in the detected disk list.
This process is unsophisticated but reminiscent of the more evolved implementation of NotPetya’s malicious MBR that masqueraded as the legitimate
chkdsk disk-repair utility while actually corrupting the infected host’s file system.
The bootloader installer does not initiate a reboot of the infected system, as has been observed in past intrusions such as BadRabbit and NotPetya. The lack of forced reboot suggests the threat actor took other steps to initiate it (e.g., via a different implant) or decided to let users perform the reboot themselves. A delayed reboot may allow other components of the WhisperGate intrusion to run (e.g., the file wiper).
The WhisperGate bootloader malware complements its file-wiper counterpart. Both aim to irrevocably corrupt the infected hosts’ data and attempt to masquerade as genuine modern ransomware operations. However, the WhisperGate bootloader has no decryption or data-recovery mechanism, and has inconsistencies with malware commonly deployed in ransomware operations.
The displayed message suggests victims can expect recovery of their data, but this is technically unachievable. These inconsistencies very likely indicate that WhisperGate activity aims to destroy data on the impacted assets. This assessment is made with moderate confidence as technical analysis of the WhisperGate activity continues.
The activity is reminiscent of VOODOO BEAR’s destructive NotPetya malware, which included a component impersonating the legitimate
chkdsk utility after a reboot and corrupted the infected host’s Master File Table (MFT) — a critical component of Microsoft’s NTFS file system. However, the WhisperGate bootloader is less sophisticated, and no technical overlap could currently be identified with VOODOO BEAR operations.
CrowdStrike Intelligence Confidence Assessment
High Confidence: Judgments are based on high-quality information from multiple sources. High confidence in the quality and quantity of source information supporting a judgment does not imply that that assessment is an absolute certainty or fact. The judgment still has a marginal probability of being inaccurate.
Moderate Confidence: Judgments are based on information that is credibly sourced and plausible, but not of sufficient quantity or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence. This level of confidence is used to express that judgments carry an increased probability of being incorrect until more information is available or corroborated.
Low Confidence: Judgments are made where the credibility of the source is uncertain, the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated enough to make solid analytic inferences, or the reliability of the source is untested. Further information is needed for corroboration of the information or to fill known intelligence gaps.
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