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Facebook: Taking Action Against Hackers in Iran

Facebook threat intelligence analysts and security experts work to find and stop a wide range of threats including cyber espionage campaigns, influence operations and hacking of our platform by nation-state actors and other groups. As part of these efforts, our teams routinely disrupt adversary operations by disabling them, notifying users if they should take steps…

Facebook threat intelligence analysts and security experts work to find and stop a wide range of threats including cyber espionage campaigns, influence operations and hacking of our platform by nation-state actors and other groups. As part of these efforts, our teams routinely disrupt adversary operations by disabling them, notifying users if they should take steps to protect their accounts, sharing our findings publicly and continuing to improve the security of our products.

Today, we’re sharing actions we took against a group of hackers in Iran to disrupt their ability to use their infrastructure to abuse our platform, distribute malware and conduct espionage operations across the internet, targeting primarily the United States. This group is known in the security industry as Tortoiseshell, whose activity was previously reported to mainly focus on the information technology industry in the Middle East. In an apparent expansion of malicious activity to other regions and industries, our investigation found them targeting military personnel and companies in the defense and aerospace industries primarily in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK and Europe. This group used various malicious tactics to identify its targets and infect their devices with malware to enable espionage.

This activity had the hallmarks of a well-resourced and persistent operation, while relying on relatively strong operational security measures to hide who’s behind it. Our platform was one of the elements of the much broader cross-platform cyber espionage operation, and the group’s activity on Facebook manifested primarily in social engineering and driving people off-platform (e.g. email, messaging and collaboration services and websites), rather than directly sharing the malware itself.

We identified the following tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) used by this threat actor across the internet:

Social engineering: In running its highly targeted campaign, Tortoiseshell deployed sophisticated fake online personas to contact its targets, build trust and trick them into clicking on malicious links. These fictitious personas had profiles across multiple social media platforms to make them appear more credible. These accounts often posed as recruiters and employees of defense and aerospace companies from the countries their targets were in. Other personas claimed to work in hospitality, medicine, journalism, NGOs and airlines. They leveraged various collaboration and messaging platforms to move conversations off-platform and send malware to their targets. Our investigation found that this group invested significant time into their social engineering efforts across the internet, in some cases engaging with their targets for months.

Phishing and credential theft: This group created a set of tailored domains designed to attract particular targets within the aerospace and defense industries. Among them were fake recruiting websites for particular defense companies. They also set up online infrastructure that spoofed a legitimate US Department of Labor job search site. As part of their phishing campaigns, they spoofed domains of major email providers and mimicked URL-shortening services, likely to conceal the final destination of these links. These domains appeared to have been used for stealing login credentials to the victims’ online accounts (e.g. corporate and personal email, collaboration tools, social media). They also appeared to be used to profile their targets’ digital systems to obtain information about people’s devices, networks they connected to and the software they installed to ultimately deliver target-tailored malware.

Malware: This group used custom malware tools we believe to be unique to their operations, including full-featured remote-access trojans, device and network reconnaissance tools and keystroke loggers. Among these tools, they continued to develop and modify their malware for Windows known as Syskit, which they’ve used for years. They also shared links to malicious Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which enabled malware to perform various system commands to profile the victim’s machine in a manner very similar to the Liderc reconnaissance tool identified by researchers at Cisco. One previously unreported variant of the malicious tool was embedded in a Microsoft Excel document and was capable of writing the output (i.e. result of the system reconnaissance) to a hidden area of the spreadsheet, which presumably required an attacker to social engineer the target to trick them into saving and returning the file.

Outsourcing malware development: We’ve observed this group use several distinct malware families. Our investigation and malware analysis found that a portion of their malware was developed by Mahak Rayan Afraz (MRA), an IT company in Tehran with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Some of the current and former MRA executives have links to companies sanctioned by the US government.

We shared our findings and threat indicators with industry peers so they too can detect and mitigate this activity. To disrupt this operation, we blocked malicious domains from being shared on our platform, took down the group’s accounts and notified people who we believe were targeted by this threat actor.

Threat Indicators

Domains:

1st-smtp2go[.]email 2nd-smtp2go[.]email 3rd-smtp2go[.]email 4th-smtp2go[.]email accounts[.]cam activesessions[.]me adobes[.]software alhds[.]net apppure[.]cf bahri[.]site bbcnews[.]email bitly[.]cam biturl[.]cx brdcst[.]email careeronestop[.]site cc-security-inc[.]email ccsecurity-mail-inc[.]email ccsecurity-mail-inc[.]services citymyworkday[.]com cityofberkeley[.]support cnbcnews[.]email cnnnews[.]global codejquery-ui[.]com com-account-challenge[.]email com-signin-v2[.]email comlogin[.]online comlogin[.]services copyleft[.]today crisiswatchsupport[.]shop datacatch[.]xyz dayzim[.]org dh135[.]world dollrealdoll[.]com dollrealdoll[.]online entrust[.]work erictrumpfundation[.]com facebookservices[.]gq fblogin[.]me fileblade[.]ga findcareersatusbofa[.]com fiservcareers[.]com goodreads[.]rest googl[.]club gropinggo[.]com hex6mak5z98nubb9vpd6t36cydkncfci9im872qx6hjci2egx8irq3qyt9pj[.]online hike[.]studio hiremilitaryheroes[.]com hosted-microsoft[.]com iemail[.]today incognito[.]today infoga[.]cam iqtel[.]org irtreporter[.]com itiee[.]life itieee[.]life jessicamcgill[.]life jqueryui-code[.]com jumhuria[.]com kartick[.]net kaspersky[.]team linkgen[.]me linksbit[.]com linq[.]ink liveleak[.]cam liveuamap[.]live lockheedmartinjobs[.]us loginaccount[.]email logonexchangeonline[.]com logonmicrosoftonline[.]com lskjirn[.]life mail2go[.]live mail2go[.]online mail2u[.]live mailaccountlive[.]email mailaccountlive[.]support mailpublisher[.]live mails[.]center metacafe[.]live micorsoftonilne[.]com micorsoftonline[.]website micorsoftonline[.]xyz microsoftoffice[.]systems microsoftonilne[.]cloud mispace[.]cam msol[.]live msonline[.]live mssecurityaccount[.]online mydomainxyz[.]xyz news-smtp2go[.]email newsl[.]ink noreplay[.]email novafile[.]tk onpointcorp[.]co outlook-services[.]com outlookservices[.]live outlookservices[.]me outube[.]live pic-shareonline[.]com pixlr[.]live pixlr[.]myftp[.]org post-jquery[.]com prefiles[.]ml publicsgroupe[.]net pwutc[.]live rali[.]live recruitme[.]international robotics[.]land sabic[.]work sandsngo[.]com saudivisions2030[.]org securityaccountreply[.]com seery[.]online sendblaster[.]org sender[.]gb[.]net shareae[.]cf shlink[.]run shlnk[.]run short-l[.]link shortli[.]live shrt[.]rip shur[.]live shurl[.]site site1[.]life smtp-2go[.]com smtp2go[.]best smtp2go[.]club smtp2go[.]email smtp2go[.]fun smtp2go[.]icu smtp2go[.]live smtp2go[.]me smtp2go[.]pw smtp2go[.]site smtp2go[.]space smtp2go[.]website smtper[.]center smtptogo[.]pw soc-usa[.]email soundcloud[.]fun soundcloud[.]live spreadme[.]international src-ymlang[.]link support-securitymail[.]email support-ymail-team[.]online surl[.]ist surl[.]live sxk8xrjtaikv3dxl7hgghw3vptvxpzzxeynrcltu4k3yeecjq3[.]online systembackend[.]site techmahindra[.]support teleweb[.]world tetra[.]email thegardian[.]ml thegaurdian[.]live thomsonsreuters[.]email thomsonsreuters[.]eu thomsonsreuters[.]link thomsonsreuters[.]net tinil[.]ink tinly[.]me tinylink[.]pro tinyurl[.]gold tiwpan[.]xyz tox[.]cheap treasury[.]email treporter[.]com trumphotel[.]net trumpnationallosangeles[.]email trumporganization[.]world trumporganizations[.]com tv-youtube[.]com uploaderfile[.]cf usdailypost[.]com usdailypost[.]net usdp[.]news vps[.]limited watch-youtube[.]com wikileaks[.]email workshopplatform[.]network xn--rumphotels-vcc[.]com xn--twitte-u9a[.]com xyzsitexyz[.]xyz ymail-account[.]support ymail-security-support[.]email ymail-security[.]support ymailaccounts[.]us ymailsupport[.]info zain[.]network

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