The massive attack against Israel was alleged launched by the Iranian OilRig APT group

Pierluigi Paganini April 28, 2017

According to the experts at the security firm Morphisec that massive attack against Israeli targets was powered by the OilRig APT group.

Yesterday the Israeli Cyber Defense Authority announced it has thwarted a major cyberattack against 120 targets just days after harsh criticism of new cyber defense bill.

In a first time, the authorities blamed a foreign state for the massive cyber espionage campaign against major Israeli institutions and government officials, now the Authority blames Iranian state-sponsored hackers for the cyber attack.

The Israeli experts believe that attack was launched by the OilRig APT group (aka Helix Kitten, NewsBeef ), an Iran-linked APT that has been around since at least 2015.

According to the Israeli Cyber Defense Authority, hackers targeted against some 250 individuals between April 19 and 24 in various sectors, including government agencies, high-tech companies, medical organizations, and educational institutions. including the renowned Ben-Gurion University.

Hackers also targeted experts at the prestigious Ben-Gurion University, where researchers conduct advanced researchers. The threat actors leveraged stolen email accounts from Ben-Gurion to deliver malware to victims.

“From April 19-24, 2017, a politically-motivated, targeted campaign was carried out against numerous Israeli organizations. Morphisec researchers began investigating the attacks on April 24 and continue to uncover more details. Initial reports of the attacks, published April 26 (in Hebrew) by the Israel National Cyber Event Readiness Team (CERT-IL) and The Marker, confirm that the attack was delivered through compromised email accounts at Ben-Gurion University and sent to multiple targets across Israel. Ironically, Ben-Gurion University is home to Israel’s Cyber Security Research Center.” reads the analysis shared by Morphisec. “Investigators put the origin of the attack as Iranian; Morphisec’s research supports this conclusion and attributes the attacks to the same infamous hacker group responsible for the OilRig malware campaigns.

Hackers used weaponized Word documents triggering the recently-patched Microsoft RCE vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2017-0199.

OilRig-APT-group-Cyberattack-on-Israel 2

The exploitation of this specific flaw demonstrates the technical evolution of the OilRig APT group. The attack doesn’t request user’s interaction like macro-enable attacks, the weaponized document contains an exploit via an embedded link packed with an HTML executable.

“The attack was delivered via Microsoft Word documents that exploited a former zero-day vulnerability in Word, CVE-2017-0199, by actually reusing an existing PoC that have been published immediately after the patch release. Microsoft released the patch for the vulnerability on April 11 but many organizations have not yet deployed the update. The delivered documents installed a fileless variant of the Helminth Trojan agent.” continues the analysis.

Experts at Morphisec discovered that hackers used a customized version of the open-source Mimikatz tool to gain access to user credentials in the Windows Local Security Authority Subsystem Service.

“Morphisec identified few more samples of communication with different other C&C servers (“alenupdate[.]info” and “maralen[.]tk”) in which a more advanced customized version of Mimikatz has been sent to specific users and additional agent have been installed in “C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Idle\” directory:” states Morphisec.

Early this year the OilRig APT was involved in a string of cyber attacks targeted several Israeli organizations, including IT vendors, the national postal service, and financial institutions.

Security experts from ClearSky discovered that the Iranian hackers set up a fake Juniper Networks VPN portal and used compromised email accounts from IT vendors to lure victims to it. According to ClearSky, OilRig APT leveraged digitally signed malware and fake University of Oxford domains in its campaign.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – OilRig APT, Israel Authority)

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