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Iranian Hackers Launch Cyberattack Against US and the UK 

The macro also adds a scheduled job that runs every four hours to provide the malicious application persistence.

 

Secureworks, a cybersecurity firm, has detected a new attack attributed to the Iranian hacker organization known as APT34 or Oilrig, which utilized custom-crafted tools to target a Jordanian diplomat. APT35, Magic Hound, NewsBeef, Newscaster, Phosphorus, and TA453 are advanced persistent threat (APT) actors known for targeting activists, government organizations, journalists, and other entities. 

A ransomware gang with an Iranian operational connection has been linked to a succession of file-encrypting malware operations targeting institutions in Israel, the United States, Europe, and Australia.

"Elements of Cobalt Mirage activities have been reported as Phosphorus and TunnelVision," Secureworks, which tracks the cyberespionage group, said today. "The group appears to have switched to financially motivated attacks, including the deployment of ransomware." 

The threat actor used recently obtained access to breach the network of a nonprofit organization in the United States in January 2022, where they built a web shell which was then used to drop further files, according to the researchers. 

The threat actor has seemingly carried out two types of intrusions, one of which involves opportunistic ransomware assaults using genuine tools like BitLocker and DiskCryptor for financial benefit. The second round of attacks is more focused, with the primary purpose of securing access and acquiring intelligence, with some ransomware thrown in for good measure.

Initial access routes are enabled by scanning internet-facing servers for web shells and exploiting them as a route to move laterally and activate the ransomware, which is vulnerable to widely reported holes in Fortinet appliances and Microsoft Exchange Servers. 

The spear-phishing email, which Fortinet discovered, was sent to a Jordanian diplomat and pretended to be from a government colleague, with the email address faked accordingly. The email included a malicious Excel attachment with VBA macro code that creates three files: a malicious binary, a configuration file, and a verified and clean DLL. The macro also adds a scheduled job that runs every four hours to provide the malicious application (update.exe) persistence. 

Another unique discovery concerns two anti-analysis methods used in the macro: the manipulating of sheet visibility in the spreadsheet and a check for the presence of a mouse, both of which may not be available on malware analysis sandbox services.

Secureworks detailed a January 2022 attack on an undisclosed US charity organization but said the exact means by which full volume encryption capability is triggered is unknown. In mid-March 2022, another attack aimed at a US local government network is thought to have used Log4Shell holes in the target's VMware Horizon architecture to perform reconnaissance and network scanning tasks. 

While the group has managed to breach a huge number of targets around the world, the security researchers believe that "their capacity to leverage on that access for financial gain or information collection is limited." Secureworks determines that the group's use of publicly available tools for ransomware activities proves that it is still a threat.
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