FireEye: “Iranian hackers may be behind government cyber hacks”
FireEye’s Mandiant Incident Response and Intelligence teams have identified a wave of DNS hijacking that has affected dozens of domains belonging to government, telecommunications and internet infrastructure entities across the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and North America.
While we do not currently link this activity to any tracked group, initial research suggests the actor or actors responsible have a nexus to Iran. This campaign has targeted victims across the globe on an almost unprecedented scale, with a high degree of success. We have been tracking this activity for several months, mapping and understanding the innovative tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) deployed by the attacker. We have also worked closely with victims, security organizations, and law enforcement agencies where possible to reduce the impact of the attacks and/or prevent further compromises.
While this campaign employs some traditional tactics, it is differentiated from other Iranian activity we have seen by leveraging DNS hijacking at scale. The attacker uses this technique for their initial foothold, which can then be exploited in a variety of ways. In this blog post, we detail the three different ways we have seen DNS records be manipulated to enable victim compromises. Technique 1, involving the creation of a Let’s Encrypt certificate and changing the A record, was previously documented by Cisco’s TALOS team. The activity described in their blog post is a subset of the activity we have observed.
Initial Research Suggests Iranian Sponsorship
Attribution analysis for this activity is ongoing. While the DNS record manipulations described in this post are noteworthy and sophisticated, they may not be exclusive to a single threat actor as the activity spans disparate timeframes, infrastructure, and service providers.
-Multiple clusters of this activity have been active from January 2017 to January 2019.
-There are multiple, nonoverlapping clusters of actor-controlled domains and IPs used in this activity.
-A wide range of providers were chosen for encryption certificates and VPS hosts.
Preliminary technical evidence allows us to assess with moderate confidence that this activity is conducted by persons based in Iran and that the activity aligns with Iranian government interests.
-FireEye Intelligence identified access from Iranian IPs to machines used to intercept, record and forward network traffic. While geolocation of an IP address is a weak indicator, these IP addresses were previously observed during the response to an intrusion attributed to Iranian cyber espionage actors.
-The entities targeted by this group include Middle Eastern governments whose confidential information would be of interest to the Iranian government and have relatively little financial value.
This DNS hijacking, and the scale at which it has been exploited, showcases the continuing evolution in tactics from Iran-based actors. This is an overview of one set of TTPs that we recently observed affecting multiple entities. We are highlighting it now so that potential targets can take appropriate defensive action.