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

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

September 29, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

September 15, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

September 13, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

September 10, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

September 08, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

August 27, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

August 23, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

August 23, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

August 05, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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

July 14, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
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
Iranian Hackers Spotted Using a new DNS Hijacking Malware in Recent Attacks

Iranian Hackers Spotted Using a new DNS Hijacking Malware in Recent Attacks

June 13, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
The Iranian state-sponsored threat actor tracked under the moniker Lyceum has turned to using a new custom .NET-based backdoor in recent campaigns directed against the Middle East. "The new malware is a .NET based DNS Backdoor which is a customized version of the open source tool 'DIG.net,'" Zscaler ThreatLabz researchers Niraj Shivtarkar and Avinash Kumar  said  in a report published last week. "The malware leverages a DNS attack technique called 'DNS Hijacking' in which an attacker-controlled DNS server manipulates the response of DNS queries and resolves them as per their malicious requirements." DNS hijacking is a  redirection attack  in which DNS queries to genuine websites are intercepted to take an unsuspecting user to fraudulent pages under an adversary's control. Unlike  cache poisoning , DNS hijacking targets the DNS record of the website on the nameserver, rather than a resolver's cache. Lyceum , also known as Hexane, Spirli
Iranian Hackers Leveraging BitLocker and DiskCryptor in Ransomware Attacks

Iranian Hackers Leveraging BitLocker and DiskCryptor in Ransomware Attacks

May 12, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
A ransomware group with an Iranian operational connection has been linked to a string of file-encrypting malware attacks targeting organizations in Israel, the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Cybersecurity firm Secureworks attributed the intrusions to a threat actor it tracks under the moniker Cobalt Mirage, which it said is linked to an Iranian hacking crew dubbed Cobalt Illusion (aka APT35, Charming Kitten, Newscaster, or Phosphorus). "Elements of Cobalt Mirage activity have been  reported  as  Phosphorus  and  TunnelVision ," Secureworks Counter Threat Unit (CTU)  said  in a report shared with The Hacker News. The threat actor is said to have conducted two different sets of intrusions, one of which relates to opportunistic ransomware attacks involving the use of legitimate tools like  BitLocker  and DiskCryptor for financial gain. The second set of attacks are more targeted, carried out with the primary goal of securing access and gathering intelligence, while also depl
Iran's MuddyWater Hacker Group Using New Malware in Worldwide Cyber Attacks

Iran's MuddyWater Hacker Group Using New Malware in Worldwide Cyber Attacks

February 25, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
Cybersecurity agencies from the U.K. and the U.S. have laid bare a new malware used by the Iranian government-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) group in attacks targeting government and commercial networks worldwide. "MuddyWater actors are positioned both to provide stolen data and accesses to the Iranian government and to share these with other malicious cyber actors," the agencies  said . The joint advisory comes courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the U.S. Cyber Command Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF), and the U.K.'s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). The cyberespionage actor was  outed this year  as conducting malicious operations as part of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) targeting a wide range of government and private-sector organizations, including telecommunications, defense, local government, and oil and natural gas sectors, in Asia, Afric
Iranian Hackers Using New Marlin Backdoor in 'Out to Sea' Espionage Campaign

Iranian Hackers Using New Marlin Backdoor in 'Out to Sea' Espionage Campaign

February 09, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
An advanced persistent threat (APT) group with ties to Iran has refreshed its malware toolset to include a new backdoor dubbed  Marlin  as part of a long-running espionage campaign that started in April 2018. Slovak cybersecurity company ESET attributed the attacks — codenamed "Out to Sea"  — to a threat actor called  OilRig  (aka APT34), while also conclusively connecting its activities to a second Iranian group tracked under the name  Lyceum  (Hexane aka  SiameseKitten ). "Victims of the campaign include diplomatic organizations, technology companies, and medical organizations in Israel, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates," ESET noted in its  T3 2021 Threat Report  shared with The Hacker News. Active since at least 2014, the hacking group is known to strike Middle Eastern governments and a variety of business verticals, including chemical, energy, financial, and telecommunications. In April 2021, the actor targeted a Lebanese entity with an implant called
Hacker Group 'Moses Staff' Using New StrifeWater RAT in Ransomware Attacks

Hacker Group 'Moses Staff' Using New StrifeWater RAT in Ransomware Attacks

February 02, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
A politically motivated hacker group tied to a series of espionage and sabotage attacks on Israeli entities in 2021 incorporated a previously undocumented remote access trojan (RAT) that masquerades as the Windows Calculator app as part of a conscious effort to stay under the radar. Cybersecurity company Cybereason, which has been tracking the operations of the Iranian actor known as Moses Staff, dubbed the malware " StrifeWater ." "The StrifeWater RAT appears to be used in the initial stage of the attack and this stealthy RAT has the ability to remove itself from the system to cover the Iranian group's tracks," Tom Fakterman, Cybereason security analyst,  said  in a report. "The RAT possesses other capabilities, such as command execution and screen capturing, as well as the ability to download additional extensions." Moses Staff came to light towards the end of last year when Check Point Research  unmasked  a series of attacks aimed at Israeli or
Iranian Hackers Using New PowerShell Backdoor in Cyber Espionage Attacks

Iranian Hackers Using New PowerShell Backdoor in Cyber Espionage Attacks

February 01, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
An advanced persistent threat group with links to Iran has updated its malware toolset to include a novel PowerShell-based implant called PowerLess Backdoor , according to new research published by Cybereason. The Boston-headquartered cybersecurity company attributed the malware to a hacking group known as Charming Kitten (aka Phosphorous, APT35, or  TA453 ), while also calling out the backdoor's evasive PowerShell execution. "The PowerShell code runs in the context of a .NET application, thus not launching 'powershell.exe' which enables it to evade security products," Daniel Frank, senior malware researcher at Cybereason,  said . "The toolset analyzed includes extremely modular, multi-staged malware that decrypts and deploys additional payloads in several stages for the sake of both stealth and efficacy." The threat actor, which is active since at least 2017, has been behind a series of campaigns in recent years, including those wherein the adversa
Iranian Hackers Exploit Log4j Vulnerability to Deploy PowerShell Backdoor

Iranian Hackers Exploit Log4j Vulnerability to Deploy PowerShell Backdoor

January 13, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
An Iranian state-sponsored actor has been observed scanning and attempting to abuse the Log4Shell flaw in publicly-exposed Java applications to deploy a hitherto undocumented PowerShell-based modular backdoor dubbed " CharmPower " for follow-on post-exploitation. "The actor's attack setup was obviously rushed, as they used the basic open-source tool for the exploitation and based their operations on previous infrastructure, which made the attack easier to detect and attribute," researchers from Check Point  said  in a report published this week. The Israeli cybersecurity company linked the attack to a group known as  APT35 , which is also tracked using the codenames Charming Kitten, Phosphorus, and TA453, citing overlaps with toolsets previously identified as infrastructure used by the threat actor. Log4Shell  aka CVE-2021-44228 (CVSS score: 10.0) concerns a critical security vulnerability in the popular Log4j logging library that, if successfully exploite
US Cyber Command Links 'MuddyWater' Hacking Group to Iranian Intelligence

US Cyber Command Links 'MuddyWater' Hacking Group to Iranian Intelligence

January 13, 2022Ravie Lakshmanan
The U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) on Wednesday officially confirmed MuddyWater's ties to the Iranian intelligence apparatus, while simultaneously detailing the various tools and tactics adopted by the espionage actor to burrow into victim networks. "MuddyWater has been seen using a variety of techniques to maintain access to victim networks," USCYBERCOM's Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF)  said  in a statement. "These include side-loading  DLLs  in order to trick legitimate programs into running malware and obfuscating PowerShell scripts to hide command and control functions." The agency characterized the hacking efforts as a subordinate element within the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), corroborating earlier reports about the nation-state actor's provenance. Also tracked under the monikers Static Kitten, Seedworm, Mercury and TEMP.Zagros,  MuddyWater  is known for its  attacks  primarily directed against a wide gamut of en
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