Analytics // Threat Intelligence
5/14/2014
06:00 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

On The Trail of An Iranian Hacking Operation

The Iranian Ajax Security Team of hackers went from high-profile hacktivists posturing on Facebook to cyberspies encrypting stolen information from defense contractors.

An Iranian hacktivist group, turned cyber espionage and targeted attack team, made some rookie mistakes along the way in a recently disclosed operation against members of the US defense industry and Iranian dissidents, including a domain name that led researchers to the email address of one of the hackers. But researchers tracking the Iranian hacking operation say they have only scratched the surface of its activities.

"We're continuing to investigate them. This is not the whole story. There seems to be a little more to it... [possibly] other things going on in the background," says Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike, which gave the so-called Ajax Security Team the nickname "Flying Kitten."

"Their spycraft overall is probably not that great," he says. "They made some slips along the way, which gave us some visibility into who's tied to it."

CrowdStrike today provided a few more details about the Ajax team, a day after FireEye published the first report about the Iranian cyberspying operation. FireEye said the Ajax team waged the so-called "Operation Saffron Rose" attacks that feature spearphishing emails, and spoofed Microsoft Outlook Web Access and VPN pages, trolling for user credentials from defense contractors and other members of the defense industry. The gang also is targeting Iranian dissidents, luring them with legitimate anti-censorship tools rigged with malware.

CrowdStrike has been watching Iran's notoriously loud and high-profile Ajax hacktivist group, best known for defacing websites, all in the name of political activism, this year transform into the new operation focused on targeted attacks.

Meyers says the group's makeover is a common theme he's seen before with APT-type groups. "They had gotten the attention of local government by doing nationalist/hacktivist-type attacks, and then they've become recruited to do some things" for a larger body, he says.

The email in the Whois records of the group's malicious domains is info@usa.gov.us, but CrowdStrike researchers found that those domains initially were registered using the email address keyvan.ajaxtm@gmail.com. "Keyvan" and other Ajax Security Team members until earlier this year had a very public social media presence, with Facebook pages and their own website.

Source: CrowdStrike
Source: CrowdStrike

"This Internet presence has decreased significantly since early 2014, likely due to a desire to keep a lower profile now that the group is engaged in targeted intrusion activity," a CrowdStrike blog post published today said.

CrowdStrike also spotted the Ajax/Flying Kitten hackers combining credential theft and malware: "FireEye’s report notes that this adversary’s targeted intrusion activity consists of credential theft and malware delivery individually. The Flying Kitten campaigns investigated by CrowdStrike Intelligence showed that the actor actually combines the two," CrowdStrike's post said.

For example, the adversary will register a domain that spoofs the name of the targeted organization and then host a spoofed login page on that site. The phony login page grabs the victim's credentials when he logs in, and then typically redirects him to another web page with a "Browser Patch" or other download prompt. The downloaded file is the hacker gang's Stealer malware, which siphons data to a remote FTP server.

But Meyers says it's unclear whether the Ajax/Flying Kitten hackers are actually behind the malware used in the attacks. "We're not 100 percent certain these guys are the ones responsible for the actual malware. They could have been only used to establish the infrastructure."

CrowdStrike is tracking "several threat groups operating in Iran" that wage targeted attacks, he says

Darien Kindlund, director of threat research at FireEye, says the Ajax Security Team is not the only group of targeted attackers in Iran. "What you will likely see over time is they will become more specialized as they proliferate."

CrowdStrike researchers, meanwhile, also spotted a website run by Ajax/Flying Kitten called parmanpower.com, which poses as an Iraqi recruiting, training, and development business. "The website does not appear to deliver any malware, so its most likely purpose is to act as a credential-collection mechanism much like the spoofed Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace Conference website (aeroconf2014[.]org) the adversary used earlier this year. This spoofed recruiting company website could be used to target entities across a wide range of sectors," according to CrowdStrike.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Kelly Jackson Higgins
50%
50%
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
5/22/2014 | 9:52:04 AM
Re: we need Safe and secure world
Thanks for sharing your perspective here, @aydintor. 
aydintor
50%
50%
aydintor,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/17/2014 | 1:08:44 AM
we need Safe and secure world
the hacking that is mentioned here is from part of iranian government . we (the security specialist) in iran do not like this hacking and try to have safe and secure world.we try to be ethical and improve our khnowledge with you guy.help ethical hacher and security spatialist in iran .we are against hacktivism and other international illegal behavior.just blive us that  we are good guys.we try to learn but becase of sanction we can not access usefull material but the wrong guys can by govermental facilities.
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-8142
Published: 2014-12-20
Use-after-free vulnerability in the process_nested_data function in ext/standard/var_unserializer.re in PHP before 5.4.36, 5.5.x before 5.5.20, and 5.6.x before 5.6.4 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code via a crafted unserialize call that leverages improper handling of duplicate keys w...

CVE-2013-4440
Published: 2014-12-19
Password Generator (aka Pwgen) before 2.07 generates weak non-tty passwords, which makes it easier for context-dependent attackers to guess the password via a brute-force attack.

CVE-2013-4442
Published: 2014-12-19
Password Generator (aka Pwgen) before 2.07 uses weak pseudo generated numbers when /dev/urandom is unavailable, which makes it easier for context-dependent attackers to guess the numbers.

CVE-2013-7401
Published: 2014-12-19
The parse_request function in request.c in c-icap 0.2.x allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (crash) via a URI without a " " or "?" character in an ICAP request, as demonstrated by use of the OPTIONS method.

CVE-2014-2026
Published: 2014-12-19
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in the search functionality in United Planet Intrexx Professional before 5.2 Online Update 0905 and 6.x before 6.0 Online Update 10 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the request parameter.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Join us Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to hear what employers are really looking for in a chief information security officer -- it may not be what you think.