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Iranian Government Entities Under Attack by New Wave of BackdoorDiplomacy Attacks

Iranian Government Entities Under Attack by New Wave of BackdoorDiplomacy Attacks

Jan 18, 2023 Cyber Espionage / Cyber Risk
The threat actor known as  BackdoorDiplomacy  has been linked to a new wave of attacks targeting Iranian government entities between July and late December 2022. Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, which is tracking the activity under its  constellation-themed  moniker  Playful Taurus , said it observed the government domains attempting to connect to malware infrastructure previously identified as associated with the adversary. Also known by the names APT15, KeChang, NICKEL, and Vixen Panda, the Chinese APT group has a history of cyber espionage campaigns aimed at government and diplomatic entities across North America, South America, Africa, and the Middle East at least since 2010. Slovak cybersecurity firm ESET, in June 2021,  unpacked  the intrusions mounted by the hacking crew against diplomatic entities and telecommunication companies in Africa and the Middle East using a custom implant known as Turian. Then in December 2021, Microsoft  announced  the seizure of 42 domains operated
Researchers Uncover New Drokbk Malware that Uses GitHub as a Dead Drop Resolver

Researchers Uncover New Drokbk Malware that Uses GitHub as a Dead Drop Resolver

Dec 09, 2022 Malware / Iranian Hackers
The subgroup of an Iranian nation-state group known as  Nemesis Kitten  has been attributed as behind a previously undocumented custom malware dubbed Drokbk that uses GitHub as a dead drop resolver to exfiltrate data from an infected computer, or to receive commands. "The use of GitHub as a virtual dead drop helps the malware blend in," Secureworks principal researcher Rafe Pilling  said . "All the traffic to GitHub is encrypted, meaning defensive technologies can't see what is being passed back and forth. And because GitHub is a legitimate service, it raises fewer questions." The Iranian government-sponsored actor's malicious activities came under the radar earlier in February 2022, when it was  observed  exploiting  Log4Shell flaws  in unpatched VMware Horizon servers to deploy ransomware. Nemesis Kitten is  tracked  by the larger cybersecurity community under various monikers such as TunnelVision, Cobalt Mirage, and UNC2448. It's also a sub-clus
MuddyWater Hackers Target Asian and Middle East Countries with Updated Tactics

MuddyWater Hackers Target Asian and Middle East Countries with Updated Tactics

Dec 09, 2022 Threat Intelligence / Cyber Attack
The Iran-linked  MuddyWater  threat actor has been observed targeting several countries in the Middle East as well as Central and West Asia as part of a new spear-phishing activity. "The campaign has been observed targeting Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Tajikistan, and the United Arab Emirates," Deep Instinct researcher Simon Kenin  said  in a technical write-up. MuddyWater , also called Boggy Serpens, Cobalt Ulster, Earth Vetala, Mercury, Seedworm, Static Kitten, and TEMP.Zagros, is said to be a  subordinate element  within Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Active since at least 2017, attacks mounted by the espionage group have typically targeted telecommunications, government, defense, and oil sectors. The current intrusion set follows MuddyWater's long-running modus operandi of using phishing lures that contain direct Dropbox links or document attachments with an embedded URL pointing to a ZIP archive file.
Iranian Hackers Strike Diamond Industry with Data-Wiping Malware in Supply-Chain Attack

Iranian Hackers Strike Diamond Industry with Data-Wiping Malware in Supply-Chain Attack

Dec 08, 2022 APT Attack / Data Security
An Iranian advanced persistent threat (APT) actor known as  Agrius  has been attributed as behind a set of data wiper attacks aimed at diamond industries in South Africa, Israel, and Hong Kong. The wiper, referred to as Fantasy by ESET, is believed to have been delivered via a supply-chain attack targeting an Israeli software suite developer as part of a campaign that began in February 2022. Victims include HR firms, IT consulting companies, and a diamond wholesaler in Israel; a South African entity working in the diamond industry; and a jeweler based in Hong Kong. "The Fantasy wiper is built on the foundations of the previously reported Apostle wiper but does not attempt to masquerade as ransomware, as Apostle originally did," ESET researcher Adam Burgher  disclosed  in a Wednesday analysis. "Instead, it goes right to work wiping data." Apostle was  first documented  by SentinelOne in May 2021 as a wiper-turned-ransomware that was deployed in destructive attac
Iranian State Hackers Targeting Key Figures in Activism, Journalism, and Politics

Iranian State Hackers Targeting Key Figures in Activism, Journalism, and Politics

Dec 06, 2022 Privacy / Threat Intelligence
Hackers with ties to the Iranian government have been linked to an ongoing social engineering and credential phishing campaign directed against human rights activists, journalists, researchers, academics, diplomats, and politicians working in the Middle East. At least 20 individuals are believed to have been targeted, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published Monday, attributing the malicious activity to an adversarial collective tracked as  APT42 , which is known to share overlaps with  Charming Kitten  (aka APT35 or  Phosphorus ). The campaign resulted in the compromise of email and other sensitive data belonging to three of the targets. This included a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper, a women's rights defender based in the Gulf region, and Nicholas Noe, a Lebanon-based advocacy consultant for Refugees International. The digital break-in entailed gaining access to their emails, cloud storage, calendars, and contacts, as well as exfiltrating the entire data
Iranian Hackers Compromised a U.S. Federal Agency’s Network Using Log4Shell Exploit

Iranian Hackers Compromised a U.S. Federal Agency's Network Using Log4Shell Exploit

Nov 17, 2022
Iranian government-sponsored threat actors have been blamed for compromising a U.S. federal agency by taking advantage of the Log4Shell vulnerability in an unpatched VMware Horizon server. The details, which were shared by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), come in response to incident response efforts undertaken by the authority from mid-June through mid-July 2022. "Cyber threat actors exploited the Log4Shell vulnerability in an unpatched VMware Horizon server, installed XMRig crypto mining software, moved laterally to the domain controller (DC), compromised credentials, and then implanted Ngrok reverse proxies on several hosts to maintain persistence," CISA  noted . LogShell, aka  CVE-2021-44228 , is a critical remote code execution flaw in the widely-used Apache Log4j Java-based logging library. It was addressed by the open source project maintainers in December 2021. The latest development  marks  the  continued   abuse  of the Log4j v
Hackers Using New Version of FurBall Android Malware to Spy on Iranian Citizens

Hackers Using New Version of FurBall Android Malware to Spy on Iranian Citizens

Oct 20, 2022
The Iranian threat actor known as Domestic Kitten has been attributed to a new mobile campaign that masquerades as a translation app to distribute an updated variant of an Android malware known as FurBall. "Since June 2021, it has been distributed as a translation app via a copycat of an Iranian website that provides translated articles, journals, and books," ESET researcher Lukas Stefanko  said  in a report shared with The Hacker News. The updates, while retaining the same surveillance functionality as earlier versions, are designed to evade detection by security solutions, the Slovak cybersecurity firm added. Domestic Kitten, also called APT-C-50, is an Iranian threat activity cluster that has been previously identified as targeting individuals of interest with the goal of harvesting sensitive information from compromised mobile devices. It's been known to be active since at least 2016. A tactical analysis conducted by Trend Micro in 2019 revealed Domestic Kitten
Hackers Aid Protests Against Iranian Government with Proxies, Leaks and Hacks

Hackers Aid Protests Against Iranian Government with Proxies, Leaks and Hacks

Sep 29, 2022
Several hacktivist groups are using Telegram and other tools to aid anti-government protests in Iran to bypass regime censorship restrictions amid  ongoing unrest  in the country following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody. "Key activities are data leaking and selling, including officials' phone numbers and emails, and maps of sensitive locations," Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point  said  in a new report. The company said it has also witnessed sharing of proxies and open VPN servers to get around censorship and reports on the internet status in the country, with one group helping the anti-government demonstrators access social media sites. Chief among them is a Telegram channel called Official Atlas Intelligence Group (AIG) that's primarily focused on publishing data associated with government officials as well as maps of prominent locations. Calling itself the "CyberArmy," the group is said to have commenced its operations in May and has also
U.S. Charges 3 Iranian Hackers and Sanctions Several Others Over Ransomware Attacks

U.S. Charges 3 Iranian Hackers and Sanctions Several Others Over Ransomware Attacks

Sep 15, 2022
The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Wednesday announced sweeping sanctions against ten individuals and two entities backed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for their involvement in ransomware attacks at least since October 2020. The agency said the cyber activity mounted by the individuals is partially attributable to intrusion sets tracked under the names APT35, Charming Kitten, Nemesis Kitten, Phosphorus, and TunnelVision. "This group has launched extensive campaigns against organizations and officials across the globe, particularly targeting U.S. and Middle Eastern defense, diplomatic, and government personnel, as well as private industries including media, energy, business services, and telecommunications," the Treasury  said . The Nemesis Kitten actor, which is also known as  Cobalt Mirage ,  DEV-0270 , and  UNC2448 , has come under the scanner in recent months for its pattern of ransomware attacks for o
Iranian Hackers Target High-Value Targets in Nuclear Security and Genomic Research

Iranian Hackers Target High-Value Targets in Nuclear Security and Genomic Research

Sep 13, 2022
Hackers tied to the Iranian government have been targeting individuals specializing in Middle Eastern affairs, nuclear security, and genome research as part of a new social engineering campaign designed to hunt for sensitive information. Enterprise security firm Proofpoint attributed the targeted attacks to a threat actor named  TA453 , which broadly overlaps with cyber activities monitored under the monikers APT42, Charming Kitten, and Phosphorus. It all starts with a phishing email impersonating legitimate individuals at Western foreign policy research organizations that's ultimately designed to gather intelligence on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The sock puppet accounts include people from Pew Research Center, the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FRPI), the U.K.'s Chatham House, and the scientific journal Nature. The technique is said to have been deployed in mid-June 2022. However, what differentiates this from other phishing attacks
U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Iran Over Cyberattack on Albania

U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Iran Over Cyberattack on Albania

Sep 10, 2022
The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced sanctions against Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and its Minister of Intelligence, Esmaeil Khatib, for engaging in cyber-enabled activities against the nation and its allies. "Since at least 2007, the MOIS and its cyber actor proxies have conducted malicious cyber operations targeting a range of government and private-sector organizations around the world and across various critical infrastructure sectors," the Treasury  said . The agency also accused Iranian state-sponsored actors of  staging disruptive attacks  aimed at Albanian government computer systems in mid-July 2022, an incident that forced the latter to temporarily suspend its online services. The development comes months nearly nine months after the U.S. Cyber Command characterized the advanced persistent threat (APT) known as MuddyWater as a  subordinate element  within MOIS. It also comes almost two years following the Treasury's sa
Microsoft Warns of Ransomware Attacks by Iranian Phosphorus Hacker Group

Microsoft Warns of Ransomware Attacks by Iranian Phosphorus Hacker Group

Sep 08, 2022
Microsoft's threat intelligence division on Wednesday assessed that a subgroup of the Iranian threat actor tracked as  Phosphorus  is conducting ransomware attacks as a "form of moonlighting" for personal gain. The tech giant, which is monitoring the activity cluster under the moniker  DEV-0270  (aka Nemesis Kitten), said it's operated by a company that functions under the public aliases Secnerd and Lifeweb, citing infrastructure overlaps between the group and the two organizations. "DEV-0270 leverages exploits for high-severity vulnerabilities to gain access to devices and is known for the early adoption of newly disclosed vulnerabilities," Microsoft  said . "DEV-0270 also extensively uses living-off-the-land binaries (LOLBINs) throughout the attack chain for discovery and credential access. This extends to its abuse of the built-in BitLocker tool to encrypt files on compromised devices." The use of BitLocker and DiskCryptor by Iranian actor
Iranian Hackers Exploiting Unpatched Log4j 2 Bugs to Target Israeli Organizations

Iranian Hackers Exploiting Unpatched Log4j 2 Bugs to Target Israeli Organizations

Aug 27, 2022
Iranian state-sponsored actors are leaving no stone unturned to exploit unpatched systems running Log4j to target Israeli entities, indicating the vulnerability's  long tail  for remediation. Microsoft attributed the latest set of activities to the  umbrella threat group  tracked as  MuddyWater  (aka Cobalt Ulster, Mercury, Seedworm, or Static Kitten), which is  linked  to the Iranian intelligence apparatus, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). The attacks are notable for using SysAid Server instances unsecured against the  Log4Shell flaw  as a vector for initial access,  marking  a  departure  from the actors' pattern of leveraging VMware applications for breaching target environments. "After gaining access, Mercury establishes persistence, dumps credentials, and moves laterally within the targeted organization using both custom and well-known hacking tools, as well as built-in operating system tools for its hands-on-keyboard attack," Microsoft  said . The tech gia
Google Uncovers Tool Used by Iranian Hackers to Steal Data from Email Accounts

Google Uncovers Tool Used by Iranian Hackers to Steal Data from Email Accounts

Aug 23, 2022
The Iranian government-backed actor known as Charming Kitten has added a new tool to its malware arsenal that allows it to retrieve user data from Gmail, Yahoo!, and Microsoft Outlook accounts. Dubbed  HYPERSCRAPE  by Google Threat Analysis Group (TAG), the actively in-development malicious software is said to have been used against less than two dozen accounts in Iran, with the oldest known sample dating back to 2020. The tool was first discovered in December 2021. Charming Kitten, a prolific advanced persistent threat (APT), is believed to be  associated  with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and has a history of conducting espionage aligned with the interests of the government. Tracked as APT35, Cobalt Illusion, ITG18, Phosphorus, TA453, and Yellow Garuda, elements of the group have also carried out ransomware attacks, suggesting that the threat actor's motives are both espionage and financially driven. "HYPERSCRAPE requires the victim's account
Suspected Iranian Hackers Targeted Several Israeli Organizations for Espionage

Suspected Iranian Hackers Targeted Several Israeli Organizations for Espionage

Aug 23, 2022
A suspected Iranian threat activity cluster has been linked to attacks aimed at Israeli shipping, government, energy, and healthcare organizations as part of an espionage-focused campaign that commenced in late 2020. Cybersecurity firm Mandiant is tracking the group under its uncategorized moniker  UNC3890 , which is believed to conduct operations that align with Iranian interests. "The collected data may be leveraged to support various activities, from hack-and-leak, to enabling kinetic warfare attacks like those that have plagued the shipping industry in recent years," the company's Israel Research Team  noted . Intrusions mounted by the group lead to the deployment of two proprietary pieces of malware: a "small but efficient" backdoor named SUGARUSH and a browser credential stealer called SUGARDUMP that exfiltrates password information to an email address associated with Gmail, ProtonMail, Yahoo, and Yandex. Also employed is a network of command-and-con
Iranian Hackers Likely Behind Disruptive Cyberattacks Against Albanian Government

Iranian Hackers Likely Behind Disruptive Cyberattacks Against Albanian Government

Aug 05, 2022
A threat actor working to further Iranian goals is said to have been behind a set of damaging cyberattacks against Albanian government services in mid-July 2022. Cybersecurity firm Mandiant  said  the malicious activity against a NATO state represented a "geographic expansion of Iranian disruptive cyber operations." The  July 17 attacks , according to Albania's National Agency of Information Society, forced the government to "temporarily close access to online public services and other government websites" because of a "synchronized and sophisticated cybercriminal attack from outside Albania." The politically motivated disruptive operation, per Mandiant, entailed the deployment of a new ransomware family called ROADSWEEP that included a ransom note with the text: "Why should our taxes be spent on the benefit of DURRES terrorists?" A front named HomeLand Justice has since claimed responsibility for the cyber offensive, with the group als
State-Backed Hackers Targeting Journalists in Widespread Espionage Campaigns

State-Backed Hackers Targeting Journalists in Widespread Espionage Campaigns

Jul 14, 2022
Nation-state hacking groups aligned with China, Iran, North Korea, and Turkey have been targeting journalists to conduct espionage and spread malware as part of a series of campaigns since early 2021. "Most commonly, phishing attacks targeting journalists are used for espionage or to gain key insights into the inner workings of another government, company, or other area of state-designated import," Proofpoint  said  in a report shared with The Hacker News. The ultimate goal of the "sustained" intrusions, the enterprise security firm said, is to gain a competitive intelligence edge or spread disinformation and propaganda. Proofpoint said it identified two Chinese hacking groups, TA412 (aka  Zirconium  or Judgment Panda) and  TA459 , targeting media personnel with malicious emails containing web beacons and weaponized documents respectively that were used to amass information about the recipients' network environments and drop  Chinoxy  malware. In a simila
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