Iranian APT Group Revived Phishing Activities Over Holidays

Iranian APT Group Revived Phishing Activities Over Holidays

January 16, 2021 Off By administrator
Researchers: Charming Kitten Campaign Used SMS and Email Messages

A phishing email used in the latest Charming Kitten campaign (Source: Certfa Lab)

A recent phishing campaign tied to an Iranian hacking group known as Charming Kitten used SMS and email messages to spread malicious links to steal the email credentials of potential victims in the U.S., Europe and the Persian Gulf region, security firm Certfa Lab reports.

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The campaign, which appears to have been active during the last several weeks of 2020, targeted individuals working for think tanks and political research centers, university professors, journalists and environmental activists.

“The group started the new round of attacks at a time when most companies, offices, organizations, etc. were either closed or half-closed during Christmas holidays and, as a result, their technical support and IT departments were not able to immediately review, identify, and neutralize these cyber incidents,” the Certfa Lab report notes. “Charming Kitten has taken full advantage of this timing to execute its new campaign to maximum effect.”

Charming Kitten, also known as APT35, Phosphorous and Ajax, is one of Iran’s top state-sponsored hacking groups. It has been targeting a range of victims and carrying out various cyberespionage campaigns since at least 2013 (see: Fraudsters Pose as Journalist in Phishing Campaign: Report ).

SMS and Email Messages

The most recent Charming Kitten campaign used SMS messages and phishing emails to deliver malicious links to its targets, according to the report.

In the SMS campaign, the hacking group sent the victims a “Google Account Recovery” message with a malicious phishing link requesting that the targeted victims click the URL to confirm their identity.

“The most important point in this method is the structure of the link in the SMS that seems legitimate: ‘hxxps://www.google[.]com/url?q=https://script.google.com/xxxx,'” the report notes. “At first glance, these links generally cause less suspicion for the targets. After opening the links and several redirections, the victims are led to final phishing domains such as ‘mobile[.]recover-session-service[.]site’ etc.”


Phishing landing page used to steal credentials (Source: Certfa Lab)

“The use of SMS phishing is no surprise and highlights the breadth of social engineering tactics used by threat actors,” Dr. Jamie Collier, intelligence analyst at Mandiant Threat Intelligence Security, says. “For many years, Iranian groups have also employed fake social media personas to collect information on individuals and distribute malicious links. It is therefore imperative for security teams to implement security policies and user education programs…

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