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.

Threat Intelligence

9/24/2019
05:10 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Iranian Government Hackers Target US Veterans

'Tortoiseshell' discovered hosting a phony military-hiring website that drops a Trojan backdoor on visitors.

A nation-state hacking group recently found attacking IT provider networks in Saudi Arabia as a stepping stone to its ultimate targets has been spotted hosting a fake website, called "Hire Military Heroes," that drops spying tools and other malicious code onto victims' systems.

The so-called Tortoiseshell hacking team, which was called out last week by Symantec for a coordinated and targeted cyber espionage campaign that hops from the networks of several major IT providers in Saudi Arabia to specific customers of the providers, is also known by CrowdStrike as Iranian hacking team Imperial Kitten.

Cisco Talos researchers recently found the group hosting the "Hire Military Heroes" website, with an image from the "Flags of our Fathers" film. The malicious site prompts visitors to download an app, which is actually a downloader that drops the malware and other tools that gather system information, such as drivers, patch level, network configuration, hardware, firmware, domain controller, admin name, and other user account information. It also pulls screen size to determine whether the machine is a sandbox, according to Cisco's findings.

Tortoiseshell deploys a remote access Trojan named "IvizTech," which matches the code and features Symantec detailed in its report on the backdoor. Neither Symantec nor Cisco would tie Tortoiseshell to a specific nation-state.

It's unclear exactly how the attackers lure potential victims and whether the site is actively infecting victims at this point. Cisco Talos researchers say the creators thus far have employed weak operations security of their own, leaving behind hard-coded credentials, for instance.

"There is a possibility that multiple teams from an APT worked on multiple elements of this malware, as we can see certain levels of sophistication existing and various levels of victimology," the researchers wrote in their blog post about the threat today.

Paul Rascagneres, a researcher at Cisco Talos, says he and his team don't believe the attack is widespread, and the group is still relatively new to the APT scene.

"Tortoiseshell is not well-documented. [The research] shows that this actor is offensive for months, they create fake websites, and they probably use social engineering to send targets on these websites," he says. "We identified at least two installers, a couple of variants of the same RAT, a keylogger, and few reconnaissance tools. The toolkit of this actor is growing."

The researchers haven't pinpointed the initial infection vector, however. "[I]t could be spear-phishing or social media usage such as LinkedIn, as we saw during DNSpionage campaign," he says, referring to an attack campaign last year that used fake job websites. 

CrowdStrike, meanwhile, had tagged the group as Imperial Kitten, an Iranian nation-state operation that has been operating since 2017. The group has been known to target Saudi Arabian, United Arab Emirates, and Western maritime, IT services, defense, and military veterans, notes Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike. Imperial Kitten supports Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operations using tactics such as phony job recruitment, social media, and IT service provider attacks, he says.

"We have observed them active as recent as this month," Meyers says.

The malicious website is a "massive shift" for the hacking group, according to Cisco, as it's targeting a wider net of victims this way. "Americans are quick to give back and support the veteran population. Therefore, this website has a high chance of gaining traction on social media where users could share the link in the hopes of supporting veterans," the Talos team wrote in its blog post about the threat. 

Jon DiMaggio, a researcher at Symantec who follows Tortoiseshell, says Tortoiseshell may be employing spear-phishing emails to lure victims.

"Assuming [Cisco Talos'] attribution is correct, it would show that another possible infection vector used by Tortoiseshell may have been spear-phishing emails," he says. "We identified a Web shell being used by the attacker indicating they may have compromised a Web server to deploy malware onto the victims' environment in the supply chain attacks, but spear-phishing is very common, and it would not be surprising to see them use more than one infection vector in various campaigns."

 Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "'Playing Around' with Code Keeps Security, DevOps Skills Sharp"

 

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 9/25/2020
9 Tips to Prepare for the Future of Cloud & Network Security
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  9/28/2020
Malware Attacks Declined But Became More Evasive in Q2
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  9/24/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15216
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
In goxmldsig (XML Digital Signatures implemented in pure Go) before version 1.1.0, with a carefully crafted XML file, an attacker can completely bypass signature validation and pass off an altered file as a signed one. A patch is available, all users of goxmldsig should upgrade to at least revisio...
CVE-2020-4607
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
IBM Security Secret Server (IBM Security Verify Privilege Vault Remote 1.2 ) could allow a local user to bypass security restrictions due to improper input validation. IBM X-Force ID: 184884.
CVE-2020-24565
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
CVE-2020-25770
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
CVE-2020-25771
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...