Category Archives: Cyber Attack

Hackers Behind Healthcare Espionage Infect X-Ray and MRI Machines

Security researchers have uncovered a new hacking group that is aggressively targeting healthcare organizations and related sectors across the globe to conduct corporate espionage. Dubbed "Orangeworm," the hacking group has been found installing a wormable trojan on machines hosting software used for controlling high-tech imaging devices, such as X-Ray and MRI machines, as well as machines

Handling a crisis when you aren’t under attack

With global attacks dominating headlines cybersecurity is top priority, meaning the role of the CISO is expanding.CISOs need to expand their leadership role and actively engage in risk management.Traditionally, the

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British Schoolboy Who Hacked CIA Director Gets 2-Year Prison Term

The British teenager who managed to hack into the online accounts of several high-profile US government employees sentenced to two years in prison on Friday. Kane Gamble, now 18, hacked into email accounts of former CIA director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano, and other senior FBI officials—all from his parent's

Majority of focused cyber-attacks are being stopped

Companies are getting better at spotting things like ransomware and DDoS.Companies are nowadays faced with more than double the amount of ‘focused attacks’, compared to last year. However, they are

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Hackers Exploiting Drupal Vulnerability to Inject Cryptocurrency Miners

The Drupal vulnerability (CVE-2018-7600), dubbed Drupalgeddon2 that could allow attackers to completely take over vulnerable websites has now been exploited in the wild to deliver malware backdoors and cryptocurrency miners. Drupalgeddon2, a highly critical remote code execution vulnerability discovered two weeks ago in Drupal content management system software, was recently patched by the

CCleaner Attack Timeline—Here’s How Hackers Infected 2.3 Million PCs

Last year, the popular system cleanup software CCleaner suffered a massive supply-chain malware attack of all times, wherein hackers compromised the company's servers for more than a month and replaced the original version of the software with the malicious one. The malware attack infected over 2.3 million users who downloaded or updated their CCleaner app between August and September last

Ransomware, healthcare and incident response: Lessons from the Allscripts attack

The actors behind SamSam launched a devastating attack against Allscripts in January, 2018. As Allscripts worked its incident response plan, things started to unravel. Here are the lessons learned. On

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Cybercriminals Hijack Router DNS to Distribute Android Banking Trojan

Security researchers have been warning about an ongoing malware campaign hijacking Internet routers to distribute Android banking malware that steals users' sensitive information, login credentials and the secret code for two-factor authentication. In order to trick victims into installing the Android malware, dubbed Roaming Mantis, hackers have been hijacking DNS settings on vulnerable and

Casino Gets Hacked Through Its Internet-Connected Fish Tank Thermometer

Internet-connected technology, also known as the Internet of Things (IoT), is now part of daily life, with smart assistants like Siri and Alexa to cars, watches, toasters, fridges, thermostats, lights, and the list goes on and on. But of much greater concern, enterprises are unable to secure each and every device on their network, giving cybercriminals hold on their network hostage with just

Popular Android Phone Manufacturers Caught Lying About Security Updates

Android ecosystem is highly broken when it comes to security, and device manufacturers (better known as OEMs) make it even worse by not providing critical patches in time. According to a new study, most Android vendors have been lying to users about security updates and telling customers that their smartphones are running the latest updates. In other words, most smartphone manufacturers

The continuous fluctuation of Bitcoin comes with the threat of cyber attacks

The cryptocurrency hype seems to have died down for now. But when it inevitably resurges, will there be security implications?Bitcoin is the flavour of the month at the moment, but

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Flaw in Emergency Alert Systems Could Allow Hackers to Trigger False Alarms

A serious vulnerability has been exposed in "emergency alert systems" that could be exploited remotely via radio frequencies to activate all the sirens, allowing hackers to trigger false alarms. The emergency alert sirens are used worldwide to alert citizens about natural disasters, man-made disasters, and emergency situations, such as dangerous weather conditions, severe storms, tornadoes

Here’s how hackers are targeting Cisco Network Switches in Russia and Iran

Since last week, a new hacking group, calling itself 'JHT,' hijacked a significant number of Cisco devices belonging to organizations in Russia and Iran, and left a message that reads—"Do not mess with our elections" with an American flag (in ASCII art). MJ Azari Jahromi, Iranian Communication and Information Technology Minister, said the campaign impacted approximately 3,500 network switches

Finland’s 3rd Largest Data Breach Exposes 130,000 Users’ Plaintext Passwords

Over 130,000 Finnish citizens have had their credentials compromised in what appears to be third largest data breach ever faced by the country, local media reports. Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA) is warning users of a large-scale data breach in a website maintained by the New Business Center in Helsinki ("Helsingin Uusyrityskeskus"), a company that provides business

BSidesSF Preview: Why It Is Important to Understand the HTTP-Based Botnets C&C Deployments

Crimeware is increasing at an exponential rate. Attackers and underground sellers now use crimeware-as-a-cervice (CaaS) models to sell crimeware services to buyers. These days, one does not need to be tech savvy to conduct attacks on the Internet as CaaS has made this process easier. One of the main CaaS channels is the selling of […]… Read More

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Critical flaw leaves thousands of Cisco Switches vulnerable to remote hacking

Security researchers at Embedi have disclosed a critical vulnerability in Cisco IOS Software and Cisco IOS XE Software that could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to execute arbitrary code, take full control over the vulnerable network equipment and intercept traffic. The stack-based buffer overflow vulnerability (CVE-2018-0171) resides due to improper validation of packet data in

What is Mitre’s ATT&CK framework? What red teams need to know

The ATT&CK framework allows security researchers and red teams to better understand hacker threats.The ATT&CK framework, developed by Mitre Corp., has been around for five years and is a living,

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New Android Malware Secretly Records Phone Calls and Steals Private Data

Security researchers at Cisco Talos have uncovered variants of a new Android Trojan that are being distributed in the wild disguising as a fake anti-virus application, dubbed "Naver Defender." Dubbed KevDroid, the malware is a remote administration tool (RAT) designed to steal sensitive information from compromised Android devices, as well as capable of recording phone calls. Talos

Why Multi-cloud Security Requires Rethinking Network

The Need to Rethink Security For Our Cloud Applications Has Become Urgent. Companies are utilizing the public cloud as their primary route to market for creating and delivering innovative applications.

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Unaware and Under Attack: Why Cybercrime Must be Top of Mind for Business

I am not really aware of any business in 2018 that doesn’t leverage the internet for their operations. From websites, email, paying bills online or receiving electronic payments, these are

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U.S. Charges 9 Iranians With Hacking Universities to Steal Research Data

The United States Department of Justice has announced criminal charges and sanctions against 9 Iranians involved in hacking universities, tech companies, and government organisations worldwide to steal scientific research resources and academic papers. According to the FBI officials, the individuals are connected to the Mabna Institute, an Iran-based company created in 2013 whose members were

Does Patching Make Perfect?

We’ve heard it time and time again: patches and updates are the key to mitigating vulnerabilities that lead to epic Equifax-sized breaches. The logic goes that security incidents can be

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Windows Remote Assistance Exploit Lets Hackers Steal Sensitive Files

You have always been warned not to share remote access to your computer with untrusted people for any reason—it's a basic cybersecurity advice, and common sense, right? But what if, I say you should not even trust anyone who invites or offer you full remote access to their computers. A critical vulnerability has been discovered in Microsoft's Windows Remote Assistance (Quick Assist) feature

Trojanized BitTorrent Software Update Hijacked 400,000 PCs Last Week

A massive malware outbreak that last week infected nearly half a million computers with cryptocurrency mining malware in just a few hours was caused by a backdoored version of popular BitTorrent client called MediaGet. Dubbed Dofoil (also known as Smoke Loader), the malware was found dropping a cryptocurrency miner program as payload on infected Windows computers that mine Electroneum digital

CredSSP Flaw in Remote Desktop Protocol Affects All Versions of Windows

A critical vulnerability has been discovered in Credential Security Support Provider protocol (CredSSP) that affects all versions of Windows to date and could allow remote attackers to exploit RDP and WinRM to steal data and run malicious code. CredSSP protocol has been designed to be used by RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) and Windows Remote Management (WinRM) that takes care of securely

APT Hackers Infect Routers to Covertly Implant Slingshot Spying Malware

Security researchers at Kaspersky have identified a sophisticated APT hacking group that has been operating since at least 2012 without being noticed due to their complex and clever hacking techniques. The hacking group used a piece of advanced malware—dubbed Slingshot—to infect hundreds of thousands of victims in the Middle East and Africa by hacking into their routers. According to a

ISPs Caught Injecting Cryptocurrency Miners and Spyware In Some Countries

Governments in Turkey and Syria have been caught hijacking local internet users' connections to secretly inject surveillance malware, while the same mass interception technology has been found secretly injecting browser-based cryptocurrency mining scripts into users' web traffic in Egypt. Governments, or agencies linked to it, and ISPs in the three countries are using Deep Packet Inspection

Over 15,000 Memcached DDoS Attacks Hit 7,100 Sites in Last 10 Days

Memcached reflections that recently fueled two most largest amplification DDoS attacks in the history have also helped other cybercriminals launch nearly 15,000 cyber attacks against 7,131 unique targets in last ten days, a new report revealed. Chinese Qihoo 360's Netlab, whose global DDoS monitoring service 'DDosMon' initially spotted the Memcached-based DDoS attacks, has published a blog

New Cryptocurrency Mining Malware Infected Over 500,000 PCs in Just Few Hours

Two days ago, Microsoft encountered a rapidly spreading cryptocurrency-mining malware that infected almost 500,000 computers within just 12 hours and successfully blocked it to a large extent. Dubbed Dofoil, aka Smoke Loader, the malware was found dropping a cryptocurrency miner program as payload on infected Windows computers that mines Electroneum coins, yet another cryptocurrency, for

Memcached DDoS Exploit Code and List of 17,000 Vulnerable Servers Released

Two separate proofs-of-concept (PoC) exploit code for Memcached amplification attack have been released online that could allow even script-kiddies to launch massive DDoS attacks using UDP reflections easily. The first DDoS tool is written in C programming language and works with a pre-compiled list of vulnerable Memcached servers. Bonus—its description already includes a list of nearly

Cerber: Analyzing a Ransomware Attack Methodology To Enable Protection

Ransomware is a common method of cyber extortion for financial gain that typically involves users being unable to interact with their files, applications or systems until a ransom is paid. Accessibility of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin has directly contributed to this ransomware model. Based on data from FireEye Dynamic Threat Intelligence (DTI), ransomware activities have been rising fairly steadily since mid-2015.

On June 10, 2016, FireEye’s HX detected a Cerber ransomware campaign involving the distribution of emails with a malicious Microsoft Word document attached. If a recipient were to open the document a malicious macro would contact an attacker-controlled website to download and install the Cerber family of ransomware.

Exploit Guard, a major new feature of FireEye Endpoint Security (HX), detected the threat and alerted HX customers on infections in the field so that organizations could inhibit the deployment of Cerber ransomware. After investigating further, the FireEye research team worked with security agency CERT-Netherlands, as well as web hosting providers who unknowingly hosted the Cerber installer, and were able to shut down that instance of the Cerber command and control (C2) within hours of detecting the activity. With the attacker-controlled servers offline, macros and other malicious payloads configured to download are incapable of infecting users with ransomware.

FireEye hasn’t seen any additional infections from this attacker since shutting down the C2 server, although the attacker could configure one or more additional C2 servers and resume the campaign at any time. This particular campaign was observed on six unique endpoints from three different FireEye endpoint security customers. HX has proven effective at detecting and inhibiting the success of Cerber malware.

Attack Process

The Cerber ransomware attack cycle we observed can be broadly broken down into eight steps:

  1. Target receives and opens a Word document.
  2. Macro in document is invoked to run PowerShell in hidden mode.
  3. Control is passed to PowerShell, which connects to a malicious site to download the ransomware.
  4. On successful connection, the ransomware is written to the disk of the victim.
  5. PowerShell executes the ransomware.
  6. The malware configures multiple concurrent persistence mechanisms by creating command processor, screensaver, startup.run and runonce registry entries.
  7. The executable uses native Windows utilities such as WMIC and/or VSSAdmin to delete backups and shadow copies.
  8. Files are encrypted and messages are presented to the user requesting payment.

Rather than waiting for the payload to be downloaded or started around stage four or five of the aforementioned attack cycle, Exploit Guard provides coverage for most steps of the attack cycle – beginning in this case at the second step.

The most common way to deliver ransomware is via Word documents with embedded macros or a Microsoft Office exploit. FireEye Exploit Guard detects both of these attacks at the initial stage of the attack cycle.

PowerShell Abuse

When the victim opens the attached Word document, the malicious macro writes a small piece of VBScript into memory and executes it. This VBScript executes PowerShell to connect to an attacker-controlled server and download the ransomware (profilest.exe), as seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Launch sequence of Cerber – the macro is responsible for invoking PowerShell and PowerShell downloads and runs the malware

It has been increasingly common for threat actors to use malicious macros to infect users because the majority of organizations permit macros to run from Internet-sourced office documents.

In this case we observed the macrocode calling PowerShell to bypass execution policies – and run in hidden as well as encrypted mode – with the intention that PowerShell would download the ransomware and execute it without the knowledge of the victim.

Further investigation of the link and executable showed that every few seconds the malware hash changed with a more current compilation timestamp and different appended data bytes – a technique often used to evade hash-based detection.

Cerber in Action

Initial payload behavior

Upon execution, the Cerber malware will check to see where it is being launched from. Unless it is being launched from a specific location (%APPDATA%\&#60GUID&#62), it creates a copy of itself in the victim's %APPDATA% folder under a filename chosen randomly and obtained from the %WINDIR%\system32 folder.

If the malware is launched from the specific aforementioned folder and after eliminating any blacklisted filenames from an internal list, then the malware creates a renamed copy of itself to “%APPDATA%\&#60GUID&#62” using a pseudo-randomly selected name from the “system32” directory. The malware executes the malware from the new location and then cleans up after itself.

Shadow deletion

As with many other ransomware families, Cerber will bypass UAC checks, delete any volume shadow copies and disable safe boot options. Cerber accomplished this by launching the following processes using respective arguments:

Vssadmin.exe "delete shadows /all /quiet"

WMIC.exe "shadowcopy delete"

Bcdedit.exe "/set {default} recoveryenabled no"

Bcdedit.exe "/set {default} bootstatuspolicy ignoreallfailures

Coercion

People may wonder why victims pay the ransom to the threat actors. In some cases it is as simple as needing to get files back, but in other instances a victim may feel coerced or even intimidated. We noticed these tactics being used in this campaign, where the victim is shown the message in Figure 2 upon being infected with Cerber.

Figure 2. A message to the victim after encryption

The ransomware authors attempt to incentivize the victim into paying quickly by providing a 50 percent discount if the ransom is paid within a certain timeframe, as seen in Figure 3.

 

 

Figure 3. Ransom offered to victim, which is discounted for five days

Multilingual Support

As seen in Figure 4, the Cerber ransomware presented its message and instructions in 12 different languages, indicating this attack was on a global scale.

Figure 4.   Interface provided to the victim to pay ransom supports 12 languages

Encryption

Cerber targets 294 different file extensions for encryption, including .doc (typically Microsoft Word documents), .ppt (generally Microsoft PowerPoint slideshows), .jpg and other images. It also targets financial file formats such as. ibank (used with certain personal finance management software) and .wallet (used for Bitcoin).

Selective Targeting

Selective targeting was used in this campaign. The attackers were observed checking the country code of a host machine’s public IP address against a list of blacklisted countries in the JSON configuration, utilizing online services such as ipinfo.io to verify the information. Blacklisted (protected) countries include: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

The attack also checked a system's keyboard layout to further ensure it avoided infecting machines in the attackers geography: 1049—Russian, ¨ 1058—Ukrainian, 1059—Belarusian, 1064—Tajik, 1067—Armenian, 1068—Azeri, (Latin), 1079—Georgian, 1087—Kazakh, 1088—Kyrgyz (Cyrillic), 1090—Turkmen, 1091—Uzbek (Latin), 2072—Romanian (Moldova), 2073—Russian (Moldova), 2092—Azeri (Cyrillic), 2115—Uzbek (Cyrillic).

Selective targeting has historically been used to keep malware from infecting endpoints within the author’s geographical region, thus protecting them from the wrath of local authorities. The actor also controls their exposure using this technique. In this case, there is reason to suspect the attackers are based in Russia or the surrounding region.

Anti VM Checks

The malware searches for a series of hooked modules, specific filenames and paths, and known sandbox volume serial numbers, including: sbiedll.dll, dir_watch.dll, api_log.dll, dbghelp.dll, Frz_State, C:\popupkiller.exe, C:\stimulator.exe, C:\TOOLS\execute.exe, \sand-box\, \cwsandbox\, \sandbox\, 0CD1A40, 6CBBC508, 774E1682, 837F873E, 8B6F64BC.

Aside from the aforementioned checks and blacklisting, there is also a wait option built in where the payload will delay execution on an infected machine before it launches an encryption routine. This technique was likely implemented to further avoid detection within sandbox environments.

Persistence

Once executed, Cerber deploys the following persistence techniques to make sure a system remains infected:

  • A registry key is added to launch the malware instead of the screensaver when the system becomes idle.
  • The “CommandProcessor” Autorun keyvalue is changed to point to the Cerber payload so that the malware will be launched each time the Windows terminal, “cmd.exe”, is launched.
  • A shortcut (.lnk) file is added to the startup folder. This file references the ransomware and Windows will execute the file immediately after the infected user logs in.
  • Common persistence methods such as run and runonce key are also used.
A Solid Defense

Mitigating ransomware malware has become a high priority for affected organizations because passive security technologies such as signature-based containment have proven ineffective.

Malware authors have demonstrated an ability to outpace most endpoint controls by compiling multiple variations of their malware with minor binary differences. By using alternative packers and compilers, authors are increasing the level of effort for researchers and reverse-engineers. Unfortunately, those efforts don’t scale.

Disabling support for macros in documents from the Internet and increasing user awareness are two ways to reduce the likelihood of infection. If you can, consider blocking connections to websites you haven’t explicitly whitelisted. However, these controls may not be sufficient to prevent all infections or they may not be possible based on your organization.

FireEye Endpoint Security with Exploit Guard helps to detect exploits and techniques used by ransomware attacks (and other threat activity) during execution and provides analysts with greater visibility. This helps your security team conduct more detailed investigations of broader categories of threats. This information enables your organization to quickly stop threats and adapt defenses as needed.

Conclusion

Ransomware has become an increasingly common and effective attack affecting enterprises, impacting productivity and preventing users from accessing files and data.

Mitigating the threat of ransomware requires strong endpoint controls, and may include technologies that allow security personnel to quickly analyze multiple systems and correlate events to identify and respond to threats.

HX with Exploit Guard uses behavioral intelligence to accelerate this process, quickly analyzing endpoints within your enterprise and alerting your team so they can conduct an investigation and scope the compromise in real-time.

Traditional defenses don’t have the granular view required to do this, nor can they connect the dots of discreet individual processes that may be steps in an attack. This takes behavioral intelligence that is able to quickly analyze a wide array of processes and alert on them so analysts and security teams can conduct a complete investigation into what has, or is, transpiring. This can only be done if those professionals have the right tools and the visibility into all endpoint activity to effectively find every aspect of a threat and deal with it, all in real-time. Also, at FireEye, we go one step ahead and contact relevant authorities to bring down these types of campaigns.

Click here for more information about Exploit Guard technology.

Double-edged Sword: Australia Economic Partnerships Under Attack from China

During a visit in mid-September, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Australia to become “a bridge between east and west.” He was Down Under to discuss progress on the free trade agreement between Australia and China that seems likely by the end of the year. His comment referred to furthering the trade relationship between the two countries, but he might as well have been referring to hackers who hope to use the deepening alliance to steal information.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) did an in-depth article with FireEye regarding Chinese attacks against Australian businesses, and this blog provides additional context.

Australia has experienced unprecedented trade growth with China over the last decade, which has created a double-edged sword. As Australian businesses partner with Chinese firms, Chinese-based threat actors increasingly launch sophisticated and targeted network attacks to obtain confidential information from Australian businesses. In the U.S. and Europe, Chinese attacks on government and private industry have become a routine in local newspapers.  Australia, it seems, is the next target.

 The Numbers

First, let’s review the state of Australian and Chinese economic interdependence.  Averaging an annual 9.10% GDP growth rate over the last two decades, China’s unparalleled economic expansion has protected Australia from the worst of the global financial crisis effects. Exports to China have increased tenfold, from $8.3b USD in 2001 to $90b USD in 2013[i], with the most prominent commodities being iron ore and natural gas. Much of these resources originate in Australia, which puts China’s government under significant pressure to meet the skyrocketing demand for them. Despite the ever-increasing co-dependence Australia and China share as regional partners, Chinese authorities are likely supporting greater levels of monitoring and intelligence gathering from the Australian economy - often conducted through Chinese State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) with domestic relationships in Australia.

SOE direct investment into Australia grew to 84% of all foreign investment inflows from China in 2014, primarily directed into the Australian mining and resource sector; demonstrating a further signal for control as China seeks to capture a level of certainty in catering for its future internal growth. We suspect this to be government-commissioned cyber threat actors targeting Australian firms with a specific agenda: to gain advantage and control of assets both in physical infrastructure and intellectual property.

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Figure 1. Chinese Direct Investment into Australia by industry

The Impacts

How have these partnerships impacted Australian networks?  Mandiant has observed the strategic operations of Chinese threat actors target companies involved in key economic sectors, including data theft from an Australian firm.  Chinese Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are likely interested in compromising Australian mining and natural resources firms, especially after spikes in commodity prices. The upward trend in APT attacks from China is also aimed toward the third parties in the mining and natural resources ecosystems. Mandiant believes a significant increase in China-based APT intrusions focused on law firms that hold confidential mergers and acquisitions information and sensitive intellectual property. It is no coincidence these third-party firms are often found lacking in network protections. The investigation also found that, at the time of compromise, the majority of victim firms were in direct negotiations with Chinese enterprises, highlighting attempts by the Chinese government to gain advantage in targeted areas.

Due to its endemic pollution problems, clean energy has evolved into a critical industry for China. The country has now engaged a plan to develop Strategic Emerging Industries (SEIs) to address this. Australian intellectual property and R&D have become prime data, and has taken a major position in Chinese APT campaigns. Again, it is the third parties like law firms that are coming under attack.

Furthermore, to reduce China’s reliance on Australian iron ore exports, Beijing has initiated a plan to develop an efficient, high-end steel production vertical through strategic acquisitions in Australia and intervening to prevent unfavorable alliances.  For example, the SOE Chinalco bought into Australian mining companies to presumably prevent a merger that would have disadvantaged their interests. Clearly, the confidential business information of Australian export partners to China is becoming increasingly sought after.

Mandiant found that the majority of compromised firms had either current negotiation with Chinese enterprises or previous business engagements with Chinese enterprises. These attacks will persist as trade and investment grows, though they will do so at the cost of confidential Australian business information such as R&D and intellectual property. As large Australian mining and resources firms themselves may partner with the Australian Signals Directorate for security, the focus of the threat actors shifts to associated parties with access to sensitive data, who may not be pursuing partnerships with the Australian Signals Directorate.  This calls for greater awareness and protection against the increasingly determined and advanced attacks launched.

The Bottom Line

Although this blog focuses on acts against large Australian mining and resources sectors, Mandiant has observed these APT actors often focusing their attention on other sectors such as defence, telecommunications, agriculture, political organizations, high technology, transportation, and aerospace, among others. But the broader lesson and message—drawing from U.S. and European experience with Chinese attacks—is that no one is or will be exempt.  For all Australian businesses and governments, it’s time to fortify defences for a new era of cyber security.

 

[i]"Australian Government Department of Foreign Trade and Affairs. www.dfat.gov.au/publications/stats-pubs/australiasexports-

 

Operation Saffron Rose

There is evolution and development underway within Iranian-based hacker groups that coincides with Iran’s efforts at controlling political dissent and expanding offensive cyber capabilities. The capabilities of threat actors operating from Iran have traditionally been considered limited and have focused on politically motivated website defacement and DDoS attacks.

Our team has published a report that documents the activities of an Iran-based group, known as the Ajax Security Team, which has been targeting both US defense companies as well as those in Iran who are using popular anti-censorship tools to bypass Internet censorship controls in the country.

This group, which has its roots in popular Iranian hacker forums such as Ashiyane and Shabgard, has engaged in website defacements since 2010. However, by 2014, this group had transitioned to malware-based espionage, using a methodology consistent with other advanced persistent threats in this region.

It is unclear if the Ajax Security Team operates in isolation or if they are a part of a larger coordinated effort. We have observed this group leverage varied social engineering tactics as a means to lure their targets into infecting themselves with malware. They use malware tools that do not appear to be publicly available. Although we have not observed the use of exploits as a means to infect victims, members of the Ajax Security Team have previously used exploit code in web site defacement operations.

The objectives of this group are consistent with Iran’s efforts at controlling political dissent and expanding offensive cyber capabilities, but we believe that members of the group may also be dabbling in traditional cybercrime. This indicates that there is a considerable grey area between the cyber espionage capabilities of Iran’s hacker groups and any direct Iranian government or military involvement.

Although the Ajax Security Team’s capabilities remain unclear, we believe that their current operations have been somewhat successful. We assess that if these actors continue the current pace of their operations they will improve their capabilities in the mid-term.

View a full version of the report on "Operation Saffron Rose".