Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

9/20/2017
06:30 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Iranian Cyberspy Group Targets Aerospace, Energy Firms

APT33 focused on gathering information to bolster Iran's aviation industry and military decision-making capability, FireEye says.

An Iranian APT group with the ability to carry out destructive attacks has been waging a sophisticated cyber espionage campaign against organizations in the aerospace and energy sectors in the US, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.

APT33 has been active since at least 2013 and appears focused on gathering information that could help Iran bolster its capabilities in the aviation and petrochemical industries, FireEye said in an advisory Wednesday.

The threat group's particular emphasis on organizations with aviation-related partnerships with Saudi Arabia also suggests that APT33 is gathering information to bolster the Iranian government's strategic and military decision making capabilities with regard to Saudi Arabia, the security vendor said.

FireEye security analyst Jacqueline O'Leary says the security vendor has evidence showing that at least six organizations were targeted between May 2016 and August 2017. The targets included a US aerospace company, a Saudi Arabian business conglomerate with interests in the aviation sector, and a South Korean company with stakes in petrochemicals and oil.

It is likely that more organizations were targeted based on additional infrastructure that FireEye identified and attributed to APT33, she says.

In some cases, FireEye observed APT33 related spearphishing activity result in compromise of the target organization. In other cases, the company observed APT33 conduct spearphishing on targets, although it has no evidence whether those campaigns resulted in a compromise.

So far, APT33 does not appear to have carried out any destructive attacks and appears focused only on cyber espionage activity.

But somewhat ominously, one of the droppers used by APT33 — dubbed DROPSHOT — has links to SHAPESHIFT, a destructive Shamoon-like disk-, file-and configuration-erasing tool that has been used in attacks against Saudi Arabian targets. Shamoon was malware that was used to brick some 35,000 Windows PCs at Saudi Arabian oil giant Saudi Aramco about five years ago.

FireEye said it has not seen APT33 actually use SHAPESHIFT to carry out any destructive attacks.  At the same time, APT33 is the only group known to be using DROPSHOT, the company cautioned.

Like many other threat groups, APT33 has been using spearphising to try and get an initial foothold in target networks. Its spearphising emails have contained recruitment-themed lures with links to malicious HTML application files with job descriptions and links to legitimate job postings on legitimate employment websites.

Many of the phishing emails have appeared legitimate, and referenced specific job opportunities and salaries and have even included the spoofed company's Equal Opportunity Employer disclosure, FireEye said. However, if a user opens one of these documents, it would silently drop an APT33 custom backdoor on the victim's machine.

As part of its spear phishing campaign, APT33 also registered multiple websites that masqueraded as domains for organizations such as Boeing, Alsalam Aircraft Company, and Northrop Grumman Aviation Arabia.

There are multiple pointers to APT33's links to Iran and to the country's government. Code in the malware used by the group contains artifacts written in Farsi, Iran's official language, FireEye said. Many of the publicly available tools and backdoors that APT33 has used in its campaign so far are available on Iranian threat actor websites. The group's targeting of organizations suggests it is aligned with Iranian nation-state interests and the timing of its activities coincides with Iran's workweek and working hours, the security vendor noted.

Code in one of the malware samples that the group has used indicates that it may have been developed and deployed by an individual who was previously employed by the government of Iran, FireEye said.

"APT33 shares some similarities with other nation-state groups in that they rely on publicly available tools with some use of custom malware development, potentially suggesting the threat actors are a part of a greater capability," says Josiah Kimble, a security analyst with FireEye.

"Like most suspected state sponsored actors, APT33's targeting of organizations, most closely aligns with nation-state interests," he says.

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two days of practical cyber defense discussions. Learn from the industry’s most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the INsecurity agenda here.

Related Content:

 

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
I 'Hacked' My Accounts Using My Mobile Number: Here's What I Learned
Nicole Sette, Director in the Cyber Risk practice of Kroll, a division of Duff & Phelps,  11/19/2019
6 Top Nontechnical Degrees for Cybersecurity
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  11/21/2019
Anatomy of a BEC Scam
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  11/21/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Navigating the Deluge of Security Data
In this Tech Digest, Dark Reading shares the experiences of some top security practitioners as they navigate volumes of security data. We examine some examples of how enterprises can cull this data to find the clues they need.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-11287
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-23
Pivotal RabbitMQ, versions 3.7.x prior to 3.7.21 and 3.8.x prior to 3.8.1, and RabbitMQ for Pivotal Platform, 1.16.x versions prior to 1.16.7 and 1.17.x versions prior to 1.17.4, contain a web management plugin that is vulnerable to a denial of service attack. The "X-Reason" HTTP Header ca...
CVE-2019-11291
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-22
Pivotal RabbitMQ, 3.7 versions prior to v3.7.20 and 3.8 version prior to v3.8.1, and RabbitMQ for PCF, 1.16.x versions prior to 1.16.7 and 1.17.x versions prior to 1.17.4, contain two endpoints, federation and shovel, which do not properly sanitize user input. A remote authenticated malicious user w...
CVE-2019-15593
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-22
GitLab 12.2.3 contains a security vulnerability that allows a user to affect the availability of the service through a Denial of Service attack in Issue Comments.
CVE-2019-16285
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-22
If a local user has been configured and logged in, an unauthenticated attacker with physical access may be able to extract sensitive information onto a local drive.
CVE-2019-16286
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-22
An attacker may be able to bypass the OS application filter meant to restrict applications that can be executed by changing browser preferences to launch a separate process that in turn can execute arbitrary commands.