Feeds

Iranian hacktivists move into hardcore hacking against West, dissidents

Ajax wiping up with state support?

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Security firm FireEye has been tracking an Iranian hacking group that has moved from simple defacement of websites to actively targeting Western defense contractors and those within Iran's borders who are trying to circumvent the regime's censorship firewall.

The hacking group, calling itself the Ajax Security Team, has been active for the last five years. FireEye has been tracking the group on online forums, and says it began life as a loose collection of individuals getting together to find flaws in websites that would allow for defacement with pro-Iranian messages.

But these attacks have now stopped – the last was recorded last December – and the AST has been using its own custom malware to get into the espionage business. The team developed malware dubbed Stealer which, while not particularly advanced, has proven rather effective.

Stealer is built into a CAB extractor, and once activated, writes itself onto the target's drive as IntelRS.exe. This then adds in a backdoor to the target system that communicates with command and control servers over FTP, a keylogger, and screenshot collector.

The first target of the group has been Western defense companies, particularly those in the aerospace industry. The group registered the domain aeroconf2014[.]org, similar to the IEEE Aerospace conference website, and sent out emails to companies in the field with a phony login page.

If the recipient tried to register for the conference, they would be prompted to download proxy software to access the site, which is when the Stealer software gets onto the target's system. FireEye's director of threat research Darien Kindlund told El Reg that these kind of attacks are still ongoing by the group.

The malware is quite primitive in that it doesn't seek to exploit a zero-day vulnerability but instead relies on social engineering to get the user to install the malware. Nevertheless, that's still an effective tactic, he said, and multiple companies are under attack as a result of the code.

The second target for the group is Iranian citizens looking to get uncensored information via free proxy services. FireEye has tracked numerous cases of the malware being embedded in software such as Proxifier or Psiphon.

Over the course of their research, FireEye found data from 77 infected individuals, the bulk of whose computers had their clocks set to Iran Standard Time and were using Persian language settings.

Given the choice of targets, Kindlund said that it was likely that the group is either state-sponsored or state-supported. While one member of the hacking group has tried spreading malware for pecuniary gain, the bulk of their activities have been intelligence-gathering.

"The increased politicization of the Ajax Security Team, and the transition from nuisance defacements to operations against internal dissidents and foreign targets, coincides with moves by Iran aimed at increasing offensive cyber capabilities," FireEye's report concludes.

"While the relationship between actors such as the Ajax Security Team and the Iranian government remains unclear, their activities appear to align with Iranian government political objectives." ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Knock Knock tool makes a joke of Mac AV
Yes, we know Macs 'don't get viruses', but when they do this code'll spot 'em
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
BlackEnergy crimeware coursing through US control systems
US CERT says three flavours of control kit are under attack
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.