Iranian PupyRAT Bites Middle Eastern OrganizationsCustomized phishing lures distribute PupyRAT malware By: Counter Threat Unit Research Team
SecureWorks® Counter Threat Unit™ (CTU) researchers analyzed a phishing campaign that targeted a Middle Eastern organization in early January 2017. Some of messages were sent from legitimate email addresses belonging to several Middle Eastern organizations.
The threat actor used shortened URLs in the body of the phishing emails that redirected to several spoofed domains (See Table 1).
|Spoofed domain||Legitimate domain||Associated organization|
|ntg-sa . com||ntg . com . sa||National Technology Group, a Saudi Arabian telecommunications company|
|itworx . com-ho . me||itworx . com||ITWorx, an Egyptian information technology services firm|
|mci . com-ho . me||mci . gov . sa||Saudi Ministry of Commerce|
|moh . com-ho . me||moh . gov . sa||Saudi Ministry of Health|
|mol . com-ho . me||mol . gov . sa||Saudi Ministry of Labor|
Table 1. Spoofed domains hosted on 45 . 32 . 186 . 33. (Source: SecureWorks)
Recipients who clicked the URL were presented a Microsoft Office document related to the phishing theme (see Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1. Job offer lure (MD5: 43fad2d62bc23ffdc6d301571135222c). (Source: SecureWorks)
Figure 2. Ministry of Health lure (MD5: 1b5e33e5a244d2d67d7a09c4ccf16e56). (Source: SecureWorks)
The downloaded document attempts to run a macro that then runs a PowerShell command. This command downloads two additional PowerShell scripts that install PupyRAT, an open-source remote access trojan (RAT). According to the developer, PupyRAT is a “multi-platform (Windows, Linux, OSX, Android), multi-function RAT and post-exploitation tool mainly written in Python.” CTU™ analysis confirms that PupyRAT can give the threat actor full access to the victim's system.
CTU analysis suggests this activity is related to Iranian threat actors closely aligned with or acting on behalf of the COBALT GYPSY threat group (formerly labeled Threat Group-2889). CTU researchers assess with high confidence that COBALT GYPSY is associated with Iranian government-directed cyber operations, and it has used tactics similar to this campaign:
- targeting Saudi financial, oil, and technology organizations
- using job-themed lures to infect systems
- registering spoofed domains
- spearphishing new victims using legitimate email addresses
This campaign highlights the need for organizations to educate users about the risks of spearphishing and shortened links. CTU researchers recommend that organizations disable macros in Microsoft Office products to prevent attacks that leverage this functionality. Organizations should also incorporate advanced malware prevention technology and endpoint threat detection tools as part of their mitigation strategies.
The indicators in Table 2 are associated with the PupyRAT campaign. The IP addresses and domains may contain malicious content, so consider the risks before opening them in a browser.
|ntg-sa . com||Domain name||Attacker-controlled spoofed website|
|itworx . com-ho . me||Domain name||Attacker-controlled spoofed website|
|mci . com-ho . me||Domain name||Attacker-controlled spoofed website|
|moh . com-ho . me||Domain name||Attacker-controlled spoofed website|
|mol . com-ho . me||Domain name||Attacker-controlled spoofed website|
|45 . 32 . 186 . 33||IP address||Hosting spoofed domains used in PupyRAT phishing campaign|
|139 . 59 . 46 . 154||IP Address||Hosting PowerShell stages of PupyRAT download|
|89 . 107 . 62 . 39||IP Address||PupyRAT command and control server|
|MD5 hash||Job-themed Word document lure (qhtma) delivering PupyRAT|
|SHA1 hash||Job-themed Word document lure (qhtma) delivering PupyRAT|
|SHA256 hash||Job-themed Word document lure (qhtma) delivering PupyRAT|
|MD5 hash||Ministry of Health lure (Health_insurance_registration.doc) delivering PupyRAT|
|SHA1 hash||Ministry of Health lure (Health_insurance_registration.doc) delivering PupyRAT|
|SHA256 hash||Ministry of Health lure (Health_insurance_registration.doc) delivering PupyRAT|
|MD5 hash||Password-themed lure (Password_Policy.xlsm) delivering PupyRAT|
|SHA1 hash||Password-themed lure (Password_Policy.xlsm) delivering PupyRAT|
|SHA256 hash||Password-themed lure (Password_Policy.xlsm) delivering PupyRAT|
|MD5 hash||PupyRAT (pupyx86.dll)|
|SHA1 hash||PupyRAT (pupyx86.dll)|
|SHA256 hash||PupyRAT (pupyx86.dll)|
Table 2. Threat indicators for the Iranian PupyRAT campaign.
Gauging confidence level
CTU researchers have adopted the grading system published by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence to indicate confidence in their assessments:
- High confidence generally indicates that judgments are based on high-quality information, and/or that the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment. A "high confidence" judgment is not a fact or a certainty, however, and such judgments still carry a risk of being wrong.
- Moderate confidence generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.
- Low confidence generally means that the information's credibility and/or plausibility is questionable, or that the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid analytic inferences, or that [there are] significant concerns or problems with the sources.