Researchers at General Dynamics Fidelis discovered the attacks, where the attackers ultimately wrest control of the organizations' website servers and use Trojan backdoors to hack into other systems within the victim organization.
Jim Jaeger, chief cyber services strategist for General Dynamics Fidelis Cybersecurity Solutions, says the latest twist to the attacks is that there are more victims, including Middle Eastern government agencies. "It appears to target those organizations and to gain access to their Web servers, and then move laterally with backdoors," he says.
The attackers leave a calling card on the sites, with an Anonymous icon and the message "Hacked by STTEAM," as well as Arabic language text and a note threatening oil and gas ministries. Jaeger says it appears the hacktivist defacement is more of a false flag to hide the attackers' infiltration of the victims' network via the Web servers using two different Trojan backdoors.
It doesn't appear to be a nation-state group, he says, because he malware doesn't indicate that. "It's probably criminals trying to get information that they could sell," he says. "We don't see nation-state footprints."
One backdoor contains Turkish words and is able to grab system information, connect to SQL databases, list tables and execute commands, browse directories, and move and copy files and folders or delete them, although there has been no proof thus far of data destruction by the attacks.
A second backdoor is able to do the same as the first, but also can add users to the system, add a user to the administrator group, disable a Windows firewall, enable RDP, delete IIS logs, and run Netcat as a reverse backdoor shell.
Just where the attackers come from is difficult to discern because they use an anonymous tunnel, Jaeger says. Fidelis has contacted the victim organizations, one of which the company has been working with. "We're seeing this pick-up of activity in the Middle East," he says.
The full report on the STTEAM attacks is available here for download.
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