Attacks/Breaches

7/25/2018
04:28 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Iranian Hacker Group Waging Widespread Espionage Campaign in Middle East

Unlike other threat actors that have a narrow set of targets, Leafminer has over 800 organizations in its sights, Symantec says.

Leafminer, a threat actor that appears to be operating out of Iran, is conducting a wide-ranging cyber espionage campaign against organizations in the Middle East using a mix of publicly available tools and custom malware.

While the group's technical capabilities are average at best in comparison to other advanced persistent threat (APT) actors, its goals seem far more ambitious, according to Symantec, which has been studying the group.

The security vendor's analysis of Leafminer's activities shows the group has run targeted vulnerability scans against as many as 809 organizations across multiple industries in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Israel, and other countries in the Middle East.

The group's major focus areas appear to be organizations in the financial, government, and petrochemical sectors, with half of its targest in those industries. Other targets include shipping and transportation, food services, utilities, and construction. Leafminer mostly has gone after email data, files, and database servers.

"[Leafminer's] ambitious goal of targeting at least 800 different organizations across the Middle East is what sets them apart," from other threat actors, says Vikram Thakur, technical director at Symantec. Most APT campaigns are typically focused on a far smaller set of entities with shared geopolitical interests.  

"As a group, Leafminer highlights the need for organizations to better protect their public-facing network infrastructure against known vulnerabilities and attack tools," he says. Thakur estimates that Leafminer has conducted targeted attacks against dozens of organizations from the list of over 800 organizations against which it has run vulnerability scans.

Leafminer is the latest example of the increased cyber activity from Iran in recent years. Earlier this year, security vendor FireEye's Mandiant unit reported a major surge in nation-state sponsored threat activity in the country in 2017. The vendor described Iran as the next China based on the extent of state-backed threat activity in the country last year.

Just this week, Palo Alto Networks issued a report on the OilRig Group, a previously known threat actor that is also based in Iran. Researchers spotted multiple attacks by OilRig between May and June 2018 directed at a technology services provider and a government organization. The attacks delivered a backdoor designed to help the threat actors steal data from the targeted victims.

Leafminer Living Off the Land

At a high-level, Leafminer's tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) are somewhat similar to the so-called "living-off-the land" approach that many threat actors have begun adopting, Symantec said. In addition to custom tools, the threat actor has shown a proclivity for using tools and techniques that are publicly available or have been used by others.

For instance, one of the tools that Leafminer has been using for collecting credentials is a rebranded version of the well-known Mimikatz post-exploitation tool. The method the attackers have adopted to deploy Mimikatz on compromised systems similarly is a technique known as Process Doppelganging that security vendor enSilo demonstrated at Black Hat Europe last year.

Leafminer has also taken advantage of the NSA's Fuzzbunch toolkit that the Shadow Brokers group leaked last year, to develop exploit payload for delivering custom malware targeted at vulnerabilities in Windows SMB server, Symantec said.

Leafminer's malware toolkit includes at least two custom malware products — a backdoor called Sorgu for enabling remote access to a compromised system and Imecab, a Trojan for establishing a persistent access account on an infected system.

The hacking team has been mainly using three techniques to gain initial access to a targeted network: watering hole attacks via compromised Web servers; scans for vulnerabilities in network services; and dictionary attacks against network service logins. In keeping with the group's habit of borrowing techniques and tactics used by others, the approach that Leafminer has been using in its watering hole attacks are similar to that employed by the Dragonfly APT group, according to Symantec.

The tactics employed by threat groups like Leafminer highlight the need for organizations to pay attention not just to new and emerging threats but to previously known ones as well.

"Enterprises should take note of the fact that a foreign adversary is relying primarily on existing vulnerabilities and publicly available tools to target hundreds of organizations in multiple verticals, with a degree of success," Thakur says.

In many cases, organizations can mitigate most of their exposure to such threats simply by applying known security practices, such as keeping systems updated and properly patched where possible, Thakur says.

Related Content:

 

 

 

 

Black Hat USA returns to Las Vegas with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
It Takes an Average of 3 to 6 Months to Fill a Cybersecurity Job
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  3/12/2019
Cybercriminals Think Small to Earn Big
Dark Reading Staff 3/12/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: LOL  Hope this one wins
Current Issue
5 Emerging Cyber Threats to Watch for in 2019
Online attackers are constantly developing new, innovative ways to break into the enterprise. This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at five emerging attack trends and exploits your security team should look out for, along with helpful recommendations on how you can prevent your organization from falling victim.
Flash Poll
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
Organizations are responding to new threats with new processes for detecting and mitigating them. Here's a look at how the discipline of incident response is evolving.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-6149
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-18
An unquoted search path vulnerability was identified in Lenovo Dynamic Power Reduction Utility prior to version 2.2.2.0 that could allow a malicious user with local access to execute code with administrative privileges.
CVE-2018-15509
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-18
Five9 Agent Desktop Plus 10.0.70 has Incorrect Access Control (issue 2 of 2).
CVE-2018-20806
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-17
Phamm (aka PHP LDAP Virtual Hosting Manager) 0.6.8 allows XSS via the login page (the /public/main.php action parameter).
CVE-2019-5616
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-15
CircuitWerkes Sicon-8, a hardware device used for managing electrical devices, ships with a web-based front-end controller and implements an authentication mechanism in JavaScript that is run in the context of a user's web browser.
CVE-2018-17882
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-15
An Integer overflow vulnerability exists in the batchTransfer function of a smart contract implementation for CryptoBotsBattle (CBTB), an Ethereum token. This vulnerability could be used by an attacker to create an arbitrary amount of tokens for any user.