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US, UK, Canada and Australia Link Iranian Government Agency to Ransomware Attacks

Government agencies in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia say that threat groups associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been engaging in data encryption and extortion operations.

Government agencies in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia say that threat groups associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been engaging in data encryption and extortion operations.

In a joint advisory published as an update to a November 2021 alert, agencies in the four countries say that Iranian state-sponsored threat actors affiliated with IRGC have been exploiting known vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange, Fortinet OS, and VMware Horizon Log4j for initial access.

Malicious attacks carried out by these advanced persistent threat (APT) actors, the authoring agencies say, involved encrypting files and exfiltrating data to engage in ‘double extortion’ activities.

“The IRGC-affiliated actors are actively targeting a broad range of entities, including entities across multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors as well as Australian, Canadian, and United Kingdom organizations. These actors often operate under the auspices of Najee Technology Hooshmand Fater LLC, based in Karaj, Iran, and Afkar System Yazd Company, based in Yazd, Iran,” the joint advisory reads.

Iranian government-sponsored APT actors were seen scanning for and exploiting vulnerabilities such as CVE-2018-13379, CVE-2019-5591, and CVE-2020-12812 (FortiOS); CVE-2021-34473, CVE-2021-34523, and CVE-2021-31207 (ProxyShell); and CVE-2021-44228, CVE-2021-45046, and CVE-2021-45105 (Log4Shell), to target various entities, including critical infrastructure organizations.

“After gaining access to a network, the IRGC-affiliated actors likely determine a course of action based on their perceived value of the data. Depending on the perceived value, the actors may encrypt data for ransom and/or exfiltrate data. The actors may sell the data or use the exfiltrated data in extortion operations or ‘double extortion’ ransom operations where a threat actor uses a combination of encryption and data theft to pressure targeted entities to pay ransom demands,” the advisory reads.

The alert, which includes further technical details on the observed attacks, as well as indicators of compromise (IoCs) and mitigation recommendations, was published on the same day that the US announced charges against three Iranians who allegedly launched ransomware attacks against entities in at least five countries.

Last week, the US announced a new set of sanctions against Iran for launching destructive cyberattacks against the Albanian government and Microsoft published a detailed report on Iranian threat actors’ ransomware operations.

Related: Microsoft Dives Into Iranian Ransomware APT Attacks

Related: US Indicts Iranians Who Hacked Power Company, Women’s Shelter

Related: US Slaps Fresh Sanctions on Iran over Albania Cyberattacks

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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