US, UK agencies warn Iran-backed hackers are targeting critical sectors

The state-sponsored APT groups exploited Fortinet and Microsoft Exchange flaws to gain access to systems

US, UK, and Australian cyber authorities have warned that Iran-backed hackers are behind an ongoing ransomware campaign targeting critical infrastructure.

Iranian state-sponsored APT groups exploited four Fortinet and Microsoft Exchange flaws – CVE-2021-34473, 2020-12812, 2019-5591, and 2018-13379 – in order to carry out ransomware attacks, according to the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

In a joint statement, the agencies said that the FBI and CISA had “observed this Iranian government-sponsored APT group exploit Fortinet vulnerabilities since at least March 2021 and a Microsoft Exchange ProxyShell vulnerability since at least October 2021”.

Meanwhile, the ACSC found that the same APT group had exploited the same Microsoft Exchange vulnerability in Australia.

The flaws were used to gain access to the systems of critical infrastructure organisations, including those in the US transportation and healthcare sectors, in order to then exfiltrate or encrypt data for extortion.

However, the FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC stated that the Iranian-backed threat actors are “focused on exploiting known vulnerabilities rather than targeting specific sectors”.

Related Resource

Multi-factor authentication deployment guide

A complete guide to selecting and deploying your MFA authentication guide

The whitepaper title on a strip of swirling blue and purple diagonal across the pageFree download

The cyber authorities have urged critical infrastructure organisations to patch and update their systems, implement network segmentation and multi-factor authentication, use strong passwords and antivirus software, and stay alert of phishing threats.

The guidance follows a separate report from the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) which found that Iranian state-backed hackers stole credentials by sending “interview requests” to target individuals through emails that contained tracking links to confirm whether the user had opened the file. If a victim responded, they then sent a link to a fake Google Meeting, which led to a credential harvesting page.

Microsoft managed to identify six cyber espionage groups in Iran that were found to be behind a spate of ransomware attacks occurring roughly every six weeks since September 2020.

The tech giant’s researchers said that Iranian state-backed hackers collected credentials from over 900 Fortinet VPN servers in the US, Europe, and Israel, then shifted to scanning for unpatched on-premises Exchange Servers vulnerable to ProxyShell.

Featured Resources

How virtual desktop infrastructure enables digital transformation

Challenges and benefits of VDI

Free download

The Okta digital trust index

Exploring the human edge of trust

Free download

Optimising workload placement in your hybrid cloud

Deliver increased IT agility with the cloud

Free Download

Modernise endpoint protection and leave your legacy challenges behind

The risk of keeping your legacy endpoint security tools

Download now

Recommended

Russia's "politically motivated" REvil raid could be used as leverage, experts warn
ransomware

Russia's "politically motivated" REvil raid could be used as leverage, experts warn

17 Jan 2022
Meta files lawsuit to uncover hackers targeting Facebook, WhatsApp
phishing

Meta files lawsuit to uncover hackers targeting Facebook, WhatsApp

21 Dec 2021
Five things to consider before choosing an MFA solution
Security

Five things to consider before choosing an MFA solution

17 Dec 2021
Australia and US sign CLOUD Act data-sharing deal to support criminal investigations
cyber crime

Australia and US sign CLOUD Act data-sharing deal to support criminal investigations

16 Dec 2021

Most Popular

How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode
Microsoft Windows

How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode

6 Jan 2022
Sony pulls out of MWC 2022
Business operations

Sony pulls out of MWC 2022

14 Jan 2022
Dell XPS 15 (2021) review: The best just got better
Laptops

Dell XPS 15 (2021) review: The best just got better

14 Jan 2022