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FBI warns of Iran-based cyberattacks

A group with assets based in Iran has launched a broad cyberattack campaign against U.S., Middle Eastern and European networks, according to the FBI

A July 25 alert warned of unnamed "malicious cyber actors" using U.S.-hosted virtual private server infrastructure in an effort to breach government, corporate and academic networks.

The warning was first posted on the American Bar Association's cybersecurity legal task force page, then on the Public Intelligence open-source site on July 31.

The cyberattackers, said the warning, mask malicious domains and IP addresses that support a "broad cyber campaign" that uses a laundry list of attack methods, including email spear-phishing, social engineering and "watering hole" web sites.

The FBI lists 87 IP addresses and 136 domain names associated with the group that targeted organizations should watch for, as well as some advice on mitigating exposure.

The warning said some victim information from the group's activity crossed U.S.-based infrastructure to Iranian IP addresses, and at least one identified malicious domain was registered by a presumed Iranian national tied to a physical address in Tehran.

"The majority of the victims were located in Middle Eastern countries known to be traditional adversaries of the Iranian regime," it said.

According to the agency, the group has been active for a while, at least since early 2015.

The alert was rated "Amber," the second-highest level under the "Traffic Light Protocol" used by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

At around the same time as the FBI's warning, cybersecurity companies Tokyo-based Trend Micro and Israel-based Clearsky issued a report on "CopyKittens," a cyberespionage group that the companies said uses many of the tactics described in the FBI warning. Those tools, according to the Trend Micro/Clearsky report, include watering hole attacks, malicious web sites, fake social-media presence and malicious documents.

The report said CopyKittens' focus was on spying on strategic targets in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the U.S., Jordan and Germany.

Among the targets in those countries were government agencies, academic institutions, defense companies and their sub-contractors, municipal authorities  and large IT companies. Online news outlets and general websites were breached and weaponized as vehicles for watering hole attacks, as well, it said.

The report said most of the infrastructure used by the group is in the U.S., Russia and the Netherlands and didn't link it directly to Iran. However, researchers told Reuters that the group was "Iranian government infrastructure."

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