Blurred lines - The mixing of APTs with Crimeware groups

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State-sponsored actors and APT groups are not necessarily the same. A state-sponsored actor can be defined as an APT that is supported in some way by a state. This does not automatically make all APTs state-sponsored. APT actors that provide hacking-as-a-service are not necessarily a state-sponsored actor because they can’t be tied to a specific state — they will work for whoever pays the most. But this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be considered an APT. These lines get even blurrier when an actor has the characteristics and behaviour we observe in Gamaredon and Prometium groups. These groups whose main interest has been espionage, without any indications of being interested in using crimeware techniques to monetize their activity. Which should put them outside the crimeware gang definitions, however their behavior certainly resembles a crimeware gang rather than an APT.

Our presentation shows there is a space for the second-tier APT classification, one where the actor provides breach services to a larger actor, almost mimicking what happens in the crimeware scene, where some groups just gather credentials which they then sell to other crimeware groups. There are other groups that may offer hacking-as-a-service, but rather than working for the highest bidder, they serve a specific country or group, perhaps to align with their own intentions. At the same time, these groups will do whatever is best to maximize their gains. The advantage in this case is that they benefit from the “protection” of the APT for which they provide the services. Finally, this second-tier category should also include the APTs that lack the sophistication of others and often have their operations exposed due to bad opsec or amateuristic mistakes. We believe that challenging the status quo on Gamaredon and others that could fit the previous definition, is beneficial as a whole. It will help organizations better understand the threats that they must focus their resources on. The fact remains Gamaredon remains a notoriously prolific group operating without any constraints on a globally impacting level.