CISA and FBI Warn of Iran-Based Malicious Cyber Activity Targeting Federal Agencies and Industry

The Cybersecurity Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have released a Joint Cybersecurity Advisory on an Iran-based malicious cyber actor targeting several U.S. federal agencies and other U.S.-based networks. 

The advisory alert says CISA and FBI are aware of a widespread campaign from an Iran-based malicious cyber actor targeting several industries mainly associated with information technology, government, healthcare, financial, insurance, and media sectors across the United States. The threat actor conducts mass-scanning and uses tools, such as Nmap, to identify open ports. Once the open ports are identified, the threat actor exploits CVEs related to VPN infrastructure to gain initial access to a targeted network. CISA and the FBI have observed the threat actor exploiting multiple CVEs, including CVE-2019-11510, CVE-2019-11539, CVE-2019-19781, and CVE-2020-5902.

After gaining initial access to a targeted network, the threat actor obtains administrator-level credentials and installs web shells allowing further entrenchment. After establishing a foothold, the threat actor’s goals appear to be maintaining persistence and exfiltrating data. This threat actor has been observed selling access to compromised network infrastructure in an online hacker forum. Industry reporting indicates that the threat actor operates as a contractor supporting Iranian government interests, but the malicious activity appears to also serve the threat actor’s own financial interests. The FBI notes this threat actor has the capability, and likely the intent, to deploy ransomware on victim networks.

CISA and FBI have observed this Iran-based threat actor relying on exploits of remote external services on internet-facing assets to gain initial access to victim networks. The threat actor also relies heavily on open-source and operating system (OS) tooling to conduct operations, such as ngrok; fast reverse proxy (FRP); Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directory browser; as well as web shells known as ChunkyTuna, Tiny, and China Chopper.

CISA and FBI recommend implementing the following recommendations:

  • If your organization has not patched for the Citrix CVE-2019-19781 vulnerability, and a compromise is suspected, follow the recommendations in CISA Alert AA20-031A.
  • This threat actor has been observed targeting other CVEs mentioned in this report; follow the recommendations in the CISA resources provided below.
  • If using Windows Active Directory and compromise is suspected, conduct remediation of the compromised Windows Active Directory forest. If compromised, rebuild/reimage compromised NetScaler devices.
  • Routinely audit configuration and patch management programs.
  • Monitor network traffic for unexpected and unapproved protocols, especially outbound to the internet (e.g., SSH, SMB, RDP).
  • Implement multi-factor authentication, especially for privileged accounts.
  • Use separate administrative accounts on separate administration workstations.
  • Implement the principle of least privilege on data access.
  • Secure RDP and other remote access solutions using multifactor authentication and “jump boxes” for access.
  • Deploy endpoint defense tools on all endpoints; ensure they work and are up to date.
  • Keep software up to date.

Read the full alert at CISA

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