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Iranian Hackers Target Israeli Companies With Pay2Key Ransomware

Attacks conducted by Iranian hackers against Israeli companies involved the deployment of ransomware and theft of information, threat intelligence company ClearSky reported last week.

Attacks conducted by Iranian hackers against Israeli companies involved the deployment of ransomware and theft of information, threat intelligence company ClearSky reported last week.

Observed in November and December 2020 and collectively referred to as operation Pay2Key, the attacks appear to be the work of Iranian state-sponsored threat actor Fox Kitten.

Also referred to as Parisite and PIONEER KITTEN, the activity associated with Fox Kitten is said to represent a collaboration between two known state-sponsored Iranian groups, namely APT33 (Elfin, Magnallium, Holmium, and Refined Kitten) and APT34 (OilRig, Greenbug).

Known for the use of various open-source and self-developed offensive tools, the adversary was observed targeting enterprise VPNs for intrusion, as well as F5 Networks’ BIG-IP application delivery controller (ADC).

A new series of attacks targeting industrial, insurance and logistics companies in Israel appears to be the work of Fox Kitten, ClearSky noted in a new report. In November and December 2020, the threat actor targeted dozens of Israeli companies in attacks that involved the deployment of ransomware to encrypt servers and workstations.

In addition to the potentially misleading ransomware attacks, the adversary was observed performing “supply chain attacks,” where they leverage accessibility or information obtained from previously breached organizations.

“We believe that this campaign is part of the ongoing cyber confrontation between Israel and Iran, with the most recent wave of attacks causing significant damage to some of the affected companies,” ClearSky noted in a detailed technical report.

The same as in previous campaigns, the attackers target known vulnerabilities for initial compromise. According to ClearSky, the Pay2Key campaign appears to be aimed at creating panic in Israel, given that the attackers leak exfiltrated data instead of just demanding a ransom.

The oldest Pay2Key ransomware executable used in these attacks has a compilation date of October 26, 2020. Publicly available tools were used to enable a reverse proxy on the infected machines, and lateral movement was performed to take over additional servers before deploying ransomware.

Typically, the attackers demanded between seven and nine Bitcoin as ransom and displayed sensitive information stolen from the victims on a website, to pressure organizations into paying. The Pay2Key ransomware does not require connectivity with the command and control (C&C) server to operate, the security researchers discovered.

Vulnerabilities targeted in these attacks include CVE-2019-11510 (Pulse Secure), CVE-2018-13379 (Fortinet FortiOS), CVE-2018-1579 (Palo Alto Networks VPN), CVE-2019-19781 (Citrix NetScaler) and CVE-2020-5902 (F5 BIG-IP). Microsoft Exchange Server and RDP accounts were also targeted.

Related: CISA Shares Details on Web Shells Employed by Iranian Hackers

Related: Iranian Hackers Target Critical Vulnerability in F5’s BIG-IP

Related: FBI Warns of DoppelPaymer Ransomware Targeting Critical Infrastructure

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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