Masquerading as UK scholars with the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the threat actor TA453 has been covertly approaching individuals since at least January 2021 to solicit sensitive information. The threat actor, an APT who we assess with high confidence supports Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence collection efforts, established backstopping for their credential phishing infrastructure by compromising a legitimate site of a highly regarded academic institution to deliver personalized credential harvesting pages disguised as registration links. Identified targets included experts in Middle Eastern affairs from think tanks, senior professors from well-known academic institutions, and journalists specializing in Middle Eastern coverage.
These connection attempts were detailed and extensive, often including lengthy conversations prior to presenting the next stage in the attack chain. Once the conversation was established, TA453 delivered a “registration link” to a legitimate but compromised website belonging to the University of London’s SOAS radio. The compromised site was configured to capture a variety of credentials. Of note, TA453 also targeted the personal email accounts of at least one of their targets. In subsequent phishing emails, TA453 shifted their tactics and began delivering the registration link earlier in their engagement with the target without requiring extensive conversation. This operation, dubbed SpoofedScholars, represents one of the more sophisticated TA453 campaigns identified by Proofpoint.
The report details the tactics.
Posted on July 13, 2021 at 9:04 AM •
Apostle seems to be a new strain of malware that destroys data.
In a post published Tuesday, SentinelOne researchers said they assessed with high confidence that based on the code and the servers Apostle reported to, the malware was being used by a newly discovered group with ties to the Iranian government. While a ransomware note the researchers recovered suggested that Apostle had been used against a critical facility in the United Arab Emirates, the primary target was Israel.
Posted on May 26, 2021 at 9:33 AM •
The New York Times wrote about a still-unreleased report from Check Point and the Miaan Group:
The reports, which were reviewed by The New York Times in advance of their release, say that the hackers have successfully infiltrated what were thought to be secure mobile phones and computers belonging to the targets, overcoming obstacles created by encrypted applications such as Telegram and, according to Miaan, even gaining access to information on WhatsApp. Both are popular messaging tools in Iran. The hackers also have created malware disguised as Android applications, the reports said.
It looks like the standard technique of getting the victim to open a document or application.
Posted on September 24, 2020 at 6:18 AM •
Israel is using emergency surveillance powers to track people who may have COVID-19, joining China and Iran in using mass surveillance in this way. I believe pressure will increase to leverage existing corporate surveillance infrastructure for these purposes in the US and other countries. With that in mind, the EFF has some good thinking on how to balance public safety with civil liberties:
Thus, any data collection and digital monitoring of potential carriers of COVID-19 should take into consideration and commit to these principles:
- Privacy intrusions must be necessary and proportionate. A program that collects, en masse, identifiable information about people must be scientifically justified and deemed necessary by public health experts for the purpose of containment. And that data processing must be proportionate to the need. For example, maintenance of 10 years of travel history of all people would not be proportionate to the need to contain a disease like COVID-19, which has a two-week incubation period.
- Data collection based on science, not bias. Given the global scope of communicable diseases, there is historical precedent for improper government containment efforts driven by bias based on nationality, ethnicity, religion, and race — rather than facts about a particular individual’s actual likelihood of contracting the virus, such as their travel history or contact with potentially infected people. Today, we must ensure that any automated data systems used to contain COVID-19 do not erroneously identify members of specific demographic groups as particularly susceptible to infection.
- Expiration. As in other major emergencies in the past, there is a hazard that the data surveillance infrastructure we build to contain COVID-19 may long outlive the crisis it was intended to address. The government and its corporate cooperators must roll back any invasive programs created in the name of public health after crisis has been contained.
- Transparency. Any government use of “big data” to track virus spread must be clearly and quickly explained to the public. This includes publication of detailed information about the information being gathered, the retention period for the information, the tools used to process that information, the ways these tools guide public health decisions, and whether these tools have had any positive or negative outcomes.
- Due Process. If the government seeks to limit a person’s rights based on this “big data” surveillance (for example, to quarantine them based on the system’s conclusions about their relationships or travel), then the person must have the opportunity to timely and fairly challenge these conclusions and limits.
Posted on March 20, 2020 at 6:25 AM •
At the CyberwarCon conference in Arlington, Virginia, on Thursday, Microsoft security researcher Ned Moran plans to present new findings from the company’s threat intelligence group that show a shift in the activity of the Iranian hacker group APT33, also known by the names Holmium, Refined Kitten, or Elfin. Microsoft has watched the group carry out so-called password-spraying attacks over the past year that try just a few common passwords across user accounts at tens of thousands of organizations. That’s generally considered a crude and indiscriminate form of hacking. But over the last two months, Microsoft says APT33 has significantly narrowed its password spraying to around 2,000 organizations per month, while increasing the number of accounts targeted at each of those organizations almost tenfold on average.
The hackers’ motivation — and which industrial control systems they’ve actually breached — remains unclear. Moran speculates that the group is seeking to gain a foothold to carry out cyberattacks with physically disruptive effects. “They’re going after these producers and manufacturers of control systems, but I don’t think they’re the end targets,” says Moran. “They’re trying to find the downstream customer, to find out how they work and who uses them. They’re looking to inflict some pain on someone’s critical infrastructure that makes use of these control systems.”
It’s unclear whether the attackers are causing any actual damage, or just gaining access for some future use.
Posted on December 17, 2019 at 6:05 AM •
Iran has gone pretty much entirely offline in the wake of nationwide protests. This is the best article detailing what’s going on; this is also good.
AccessNow has a global campaign to stop Internet shutdowns.
TITLE EDITED TO REDUCE CONFUSION.
Posted on November 20, 2019 at 6:52 AM •
The source code of a set of Iranian cyberespionage tools was leaked online.
Posted on April 19, 2019 at 8:12 AM •
The conventional story is that Iran targeted Saudi Arabia with Triton in 2017. New research from FireEye indicates that it might have been Russia.
I don’t know. FireEye likes to attribute all sorts of things to Russia, but the evidence here looks pretty good.
Posted on October 31, 2018 at 12:44 PM •
The Center for Human Rights in Iran has released a report outlining the effect’s of that country’s ban on Telegram, a secure messaging app used by about half of the country.
The ban will disrupt the most important, uncensored platform for information and communication in Iran, one that is used extensively by activists, independent and citizen journalists, dissidents and international media. It will also impact electoral politics in Iran, as centrist, reformist and other relatively moderate political groups that are allowed to participate in Iran’s elections have been heavily and successfully using Telegram to promote their candidates and electoral lists during elections. State-controlled domestic apps and media will not provide these groups with such a platform, even as they continue to do so for conservative and hardline political forces in the country, significantly aiding the latter.
From a Wired article:
Researchers found that the ban has had broad effects, hindering and chilling individual speech, forcing political campaigns to turn to state-sponsored media tools, limiting journalists and activists, curtailing international interactions, and eroding businesses that grew their infrastructure and reach off of Telegram.
It’s interesting that the analysis doesn’t really center around the security properties of Telegram, but more around its ubiquity as a messaging platform in the country.
Posted on June 22, 2018 at 12:58 PM •
Citizen Lab has a new report on an Iranian government hacking program that targets dissidents. From a Washington Post op-ed by Ron Deibert:
Al-Ameer is a net savvy activist, and so when she received a legitimate looking email containing a PowerPoint attachment addressed to her and purporting to detail “Assad Crimes,” she could easily have opened it. Instead, she shared it with us at the Citizen Lab.
As we detail in a new report, the attachment led our researchers to uncover an elaborate cyberespionage campaign operating out of Iran. Among the malware was a malicious spyware, including a remote access tool called “Droidjack,” that allows attackers to silently control a mobile device. When Droidjack is installed, a remote user can turn on the microphone and camera, remove files, read encrypted messages, and send spoofed instant messages and emails. Had she opened it, she could have put herself, her friends, her family and her associates back in Syria in mortal danger.
Here’s the report. And a news article.
Posted on August 9, 2016 at 5:26 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.