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U.S. Imposes Sanctions on ‘APT39’ Iranian Hackers

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Thursday announced sanctions against Iran-based cyber threat actor APT39, associated individuals, and a front company named Rana Intelligence Computing Company.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Thursday announced sanctions against Iran-based cyber threat actor APT39, associated individuals, and a front company named Rana Intelligence Computing Company.

Active since at least 2014, APT39 is also known as Chafer, Cadelspy, ITG07, and Remexi, and some of its operations also align with the activity of the OilRig group.

Last year, a series of documents supposedly leaked from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) revealed information on the activities of Rana, which was tracking individuals both in Iran and outside the country, and on its members.

Rana, the Department of the Treasury says, has been operating for years on behalf of the government of Iran to target Iranian dissidents, journalists, and global firms from the travel sector. Both APT39 and Rana are owned and controlled by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

“Rana advances Iranian national security objectives and the strategic goals of [MOIS] by conducting computer intrusions and malware campaigns against perceived adversaries, including foreign governments and other individuals the MOIS considers a threat,” the Treasury Department says.

In addition to Rana, the U.S. sanctioned 45 individuals “for having materially assisted, sponsored, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of the MOIS.”

These individuals, the U.S. says, were employed at Rana as managers, programmers, and experts in hacking, offering support for attacks on businesses, institutions, air carriers, and other targets of interest.

Hidden behind Rana, the MOIS helped the Iranian government run abuse and surveillance operations against its own citizen. APT39, operating through Rana, leveraged malware for the hacking and monitoring of Iranian citizens, including dissidents, environmentalists, former government employees, journalists, refugees, university students and faculty, and the employees of international organizations.

APT39 is also said to have targeted Iranian private sector companies and academic institutions, and at least 15 countries in the MENA region. Overall, Rana is said to have targeted hundreds of individuals and organizations in over 30 different countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, including 15 U.S. companies, primarily from the travel sector.

In an advisory issued on Thursday, the FBI provides information on eight malware families that Iran’s MOIS has been using through Rana to run cyber-intrusion operations, including VBS and AutoIt scripts, the BITS 1.0 and BITS 2.0 malware variants, a malicious program posing as Firefox, a Python-based tool, Android malware, and the Depot.dat malware. The FBI also uploaded samples of these threats to VirusTotal.

This week, the United States announced three separate sets of charges against Iranian threat actors, including three individuals involved in the targeting of satellite and aerospace companies; two hackers who have been targeting aerospace, think tanks, government, non-governmental and non-profit organizations, among others; and two individuals who defaced websites in retaliation to the killing of Qasem Soleimani.

Related: Leak Reveals Activity of Iranian Hacking Group

Related: U.S. Charges Three Iranian Hackers for Attacks on Satellite Companies

Related: Iran-Linked Chafer Group Expands Toolset, Targets List

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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