A new strain of Windows malware dubbed TardiGrade that can constantly adapt to avoid detection has been found targeting the biotech industry, including the infrastructure behind vaccine manufacturing. The warning comes from a non-profit called BIO-ISAC, which focuses on information sharing to protect the biotech industry from cybersecurity threats.
The threat is setting off alarm bells because it goes beyond typical polymorphic malware, which will only rewrite part of its computer code to evade detection. The uncovered malware goes even further by completely recompiling its code during each infection when it first connects to the internet.
This “metamorphic” ability prevents the malware from leaving a consistent signature behind, making it harder for antivirus programs to spot.
BIO-ISAC has named the malware Tardigrade, the microorganism that can survive extremely hot and cold conditions, including the vacuum of outer space. But unlike a real Tardigrade, the malware can secretly hijack a computer system to steal and modify files. In addition, it contains the sneaky ability to spread both via phishing emails and USB devices.
The nonprofit first uncovered the malware this past spring when one of its member companies, Biobright, investigated a ransomware attack on a large, unnamed biomanufacturing facility. The security researchers obtained the ransomware along with the program that loaded the malicious coding, which turned out to be unusually complex.
BIO-ISAC has since uncovered the Tardigrade malware attacking a second facility. BIO-ISAC said it likely belongs to an advanced persistent threat actor, which can often be state-sponsored hackers. The Tardigrade malware also features some similarities to another malicious program known as Smoke Loader.
To detect the threat, BIO-ISAC is urging potentially targeted companies to use Endpoint security with behavioral analysis capabilities, and to also stay on guard against phishing email attacks, which can deliver malware payloads.