Russian hacktivist group targets India’s health ministry

Russian hacktivist group targets India’s health ministry

The Phoenix group claims to have access to all hospitals in India and information on hospital employees and chief physicians.

Credit: Dreamstime

A Russian hacktivist group has claimed to have breached the health management information system of India, which could contain health data of millions of Indian citizens.

“On 15 March 2023, CloudSek’s contextual AI digital risk platform XVigil discovered a threat actor group claiming to have targeted an Indian government website,” cybersecurity firm CloudSek said in a post. “An analysis of the samples shared concluded that the affected entity is the Health Management Information system belonging to the Indian Ministry of Health.”

The Health Management Information System is an online portal that provides information on health indicators in India. It compiles data from state and district-level health authorities, along with data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the District Level Household Survey (DLHS), and the Office of the Registrar General Census Commissioner.

The Ministry of Health website was not accessible at the time of posting the story.

Phoenix group claims responsibility for the attack

The Russian threat actor Phoenix group has claimed responsibility for the attack on a Telegram channel.

“India decided to impose sanctions against the Russian Federation. As we all know, going on the attack while not taking care of your defense is a rather stupid and risky move. Especially when your enemy is such a powerful state as the Russian Federation,” the hacktivist group wrote in their message.

The cryptic message from the group indicates that the attack is a consequence of India’s agreement over the oil price cap and sanctions of G20 over the Russia-Ukraine war, CloudSek said.

India is set to host a Group of Twenty (G20) meeting in September. The G20 is an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 countries and the European Union (EU) that work towards addressing major issues related to the global economy.

Last month, India declared that it would not breach the Western sanctions on Russia, which includes a price cap of $60 imposed on oil from Moscow.

“Phoenix did not approve of the actions of the Indian government and threw his firebird feather into the most painful and unprotected place of the enemy - his medicine. In this way, we easily got access to the Indian Ministry of Health,” the hackers wrote in their post.

“We have access to every hospital, its staff and chief physicians. Phoenix can easily stop their activities at any moment,” the Phoenix group added. The hacker group has posted several samples from the HMIS website on its Telegram channel.

The hacktivist group had also conducted several polls on the telegram channel asking if they should retaliate on India’s decision as well, CloudSek said. The cyberattack could result in further attacks by similar hacktivist groups under the pretext of India’s geopolitical stances, it could lead to hackers selling exfiltrated licenses, documents, and personally identifiable information on cybercrime forums or the information can be used for conducting document fraud using personally identifiable information and license documents, CloudSek said.

Phoenix is a part of Killnet

Phoenix is a pro-Russian hacktivist group. It joined forces with Killnet, one of the most popular and active pro-Russian hacktivist groups, last September and supported them in attacks against Japan. These groups have been targeting several countries that support Ukraine in the war.

Phoenix has targeted hospitals based in Japan and the UK before. It also targeted a US-based healthcare organisation serving the US military, the Ministry of Health, the Federal Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, the Ministry of Food Control, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and a number of other departments of Pakistan, CloudSek said.

Russian government-backed attackers ramped up cyberattacks in 2021 during the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine, according to a report from Google’s Threat Analysis Group. In 2022, Russia increased the targeting of users in Ukraine by 250% compared to 2020, and the targeting of users in NATO countries increased by over 300% in the same period, Google said.

As a precautionary measure, CloudSek is advising government agencies to monitor for anomalies in user accounts, which could indicate possible account takeovers, using load balancer and DDoS protection services, and blocking unnecessary IP addresses and geolocations. 


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