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Actions to Take Today to Protect Against Iranian State-Sponsored Malicious Cyber Activity
• Immediately patch software affected by the following vulnerabilities: CVE-2021-34473, 2018-13379, 2020-12812, and 2019-5591.
• Implement multi-factor authentication.
• Use strong, unique passwords.
Note: this advisory uses the MITRE Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, and Common Knowledge (ATT&CK®) framework, version 10. See the ATT&CK for Enterprise for all referenced threat actor tactics and techniques.
This joint cybersecurity advisory is the result of an analytic effort among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to highlight ongoing malicious cyber activity by an advanced persistent threat (APT) group that FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC assess is associated with the government of Iran. FBI and CISA have observed this Iranian government-sponsored APT group exploit Fortinet vulnerabilities since at least March 2021 and a Microsoft Exchange ProxyShell vulnerability since at least October 2021 to gain initial access to systems in advance of follow-on operations, which include deploying ransomware. ACSC is also aware this APT group has used the same Microsoft Exchange vulnerability in Australia.
The Iranian government-sponsored APT actors are actively targeting a broad range of victims across multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the Transportation Sector and the Healthcare and Public Health Sector, as well as Australian organizations. FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC assess the actors are focused on exploiting known vulnerabilities rather than targeting specific sectors. These Iranian government-sponsored APT actors can leverage this access for follow-on operations, such as data exfiltration or encryption, ransomware, and extortion.
This advisory provides observed tactics and techniques, as well as indicators of compromise (IOCs) that FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC assess are likely associated with this Iranian government-sponsored APT activity.
The FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC urge critical infrastructure organizations to apply the recommendations listed in the Mitigations section of this advisory to mitigate risk of compromise from Iranian government-sponsored cyber actors.
For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see AA21-321A.stix.
For more information on Iranian government-sponsored malicious cyber activity, see us-cert.cisa.gov/Iran.
Click here for a PDF version of this report.
Since at least March 2021, the FBI and CISA have observed Iranian government-sponsored APT actors leverage Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet vulnerabilities to target a broad range of victims across multiple critical infrastructure sectors in furtherance of malicious activities. Observed activity includes the following.
elieto further enable malicious activity. Note: for previous FBI reporting on this activity, refer to FBI FLASH: APT Actors Exploiting Fortinet Vulnerabilities to Gain Initial Access for Malicious Activity.
162.55.137[.]20—which FBI and CISA judge are associated with Iranian government cyber activity—to further enable malicious activity against the hospital’s network. The APT actors accessed known user accounts at the hospital from IP address
154.16.192[.]70, which FBI and CISA judge is associated with government of Iran offensive cyber activity.
CVE-2021-34473—to gain initial access to systems in advance of follow-on operations.
ACSC considers that this APT group has also used the same Microsoft Exchange vulnerability (CVE-2021-34473) in Australia.
FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC assess the following tactics and techniques are associated with this activity.
The Iranian government-sponsored APT actors gained initial access by exploiting vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft Exchange servers (CVE-2021-34473) and Fortinet devices (CVE-2018-13379, CVE-2020-12812, and CVE-2019-5591) [T1190].
The Iranian government-sponsored APT actors may have made modifications to the Task Scheduler [T1053.005]. These modifications may display as unrecognized scheduled tasks or actions. Specifically, the below established tasks may be associated with this activity:
The Iranian government-sponsored APT actors may have established new user accounts on domain controllers, servers, workstations, and active directories [T1136.001, T1136.002]. Some of these accounts appear to have been created to look similar to other existing accounts on the network, so specific account names may vary per organization. In addition to unrecognized user accounts or accounts established to masquerade as existing accounts, the following account usernames may be associated with this activity:
The FBI and CISA observed outbound File Transfer Protocol (FTP) transfers over port 443.
The APT actors forced BitLocker activation on host networks to encrypt data [T1486]. The corresponding threatening notes were either sent to the victim or left on the victim network as a .txt file. The ransom notes included ransom demands and the following contact information.
The FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC recommend that organizations using Microsoft Exchange servers and Fortinet investigate potential suspicious activity in their networks.
Note: for additional approaches on uncovering malicious cyber activity, see joint advisory Technical Approaches to Uncovering and Remediating Malicious Activity, authored by CISA and the cybersecurity authorities of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
The FBI, CISA, ACSC, and NCSC urge network defenders to apply the following mitigations to reduce the risk of compromise by this threat.
IP addresses and executables files are listed below. For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see AA21-321A.stix.
Executable files observed in this activity are identified in table 1.
Table 1: Executable Files
|Filename:||Audio.exe or frpc.exe|
Identical to “frpc.exe” available at:
Identical to “frps.exe” available at:https://github[.]com/fatedier/frp/releases/download/v0.33.0/frp_0.33.0_windows_amd64.zip
Table 2 identifies MITRE ATT&CK Tactics and techniques observed in this activity.
Table 2: Observed Tactics and Techniques
|Resource Development [TA0042]||
Obtain Capabilities: Malware [T1588.001]
Obtain Capabilities: Tool [T1588.002]
|Initial Access [TA0001]||
Exploit Public-Facing Application [T1190]
Scheduled Task/Job: Scheduled Task [T1053.005]
Create Account: Local Account [T1136.001]
|Create Account: Domain Account [T1136.002]|
|Privilege Escalation [TA0004]|
Credential Access [TA0006]
Archive Collected Data: Archive via Utility [T1560.001]
|Impact [TA0040]||Data Encrypted for Impact [T1486]|
To report suspicious or criminal activity related to information found in this Joint Cybersecurity Advisory, contact your local FBI field office at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices, or the FBI’s 24/7 Cyber Watch (CyWatch) at (855) 292-3937 or by e-mail at CyWatch@fbi.gov. When available, please include the following information regarding the incident: date, time, and location of the incident; type of activity; number of people affected; type of equipment used for the activity; the name of the submitting company or organization; and a designated point of contact. To request incident response resources or technical assistance related to these threats, contact CISA at CISAServiceDesk@cisa.dhs.gov. Australian organizations can visit cyber.gov.au or call 1300 292 371 (1300 CYBER 1) to report cybersecurity incidents and access alerts and advisories.
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