Iran-Linked PupyRAT backdoor used in recent attacks on European energy sector

Pierluigi Paganini January 23, 2020

Hackers used a remote access Trojan (RAT) associated with Iran-linked APT groups in recent attacks on a key organization in the European energy sector.

Security experts from Recorded Future reported that a backdoor previously used in attacks carried out by an Iran-linked threat actor was used to target a key organization in the European energy sector.

The malware is the PupyRAT backdoor, it is a “multi-platform (Windows, Linux, OSX, Android), multi-function RAT and post-exploitation tool mainly written in Python” that can give the attackers full access to the victim’s system.

The PupyRAT backdoor is an open-source piece of malware available on GitHub, it was used in past campaigns associated with the Iran-linked APT groups like APT33 (also known as Elfin, Magic Hound and HOLMIUM), COBALT GYPSY, and APT34 (aka OilRIG).

The above groups were involved in past attacks on organizations in the energy sector worldwide.

Now experts from Recorded Future identified malicious traffic between PupyRAT install and the command and control (C&C) server identified by the experts. The communication involved a mail server for a European energy sector organization and took place between November 2019 and at least January 5, 2020.

“Using Recorded Future remote access trojan (RAT) controller detections and network traffic analysis techniques, Insikt Group identified a PupyRAT command and control (C2) server communicating with a mail server for a European energy sector organization from late November 2019 until at least January 5, 2020.” reads the analysis published by Recorded Future. “While metadata alone does not confirm a compromise, we assess that the high volume and repeated communications from the targeted mail server to a PupyRAT C2 are sufficient to indicate a likely intrusion.”

The researchers were not able to attribute the attack to Iran-linked APT groups, anyway, their analysis highlights that the targeted organization had a role in the coordination of European energy resources.

The activity predated the recent escalation of kinetic activity between the U.S. and Iran.

Experts suggest to monitor for sequential login attempts from the same IP against different accounts, use a password manager and set strong, unique passwords and of course adopt multi-factor authentication. Recorded Future researchers also recommend that organizations analyze and cross-reference log data to detect high-frequency lockouts, unsanctioned remote access attempts, temporal attack overlaps across multiple user accounts, and fingerprint unique web browser agent information.

“Although this commodity RAT, PupyRAT, is known to have been used by Iranian threat actor groups APT33 and COBALT GYPSY, we cannot confirm whether the PupyRAT controller we identified is used by either Iranian group.” concludes the report. “Whoever the attacker is, the targeting of a mail server at a high-value critical infrastructure organization could give an adversary access to sensitive information on energy allocation and resourcing in Europe.”

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – Iran, hacking)

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