An official website of the United States government Here’s how you know
Actions to take today to protect against ransom operations:
• Keep systems and software updated and prioritize remediating known exploited vulnerabilities.
• Enforce MFA.
• Make offline backups of your data.
This joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) is the result of an analytic effort among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the National Security Agency (NSA), U.S. Cyber Command (USCC) – Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (CCCS), and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to highlight continued malicious cyber activity by advanced persistent threat (APT) actors that the authoring agencies assess are affiliated with the Iranian Government’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Note: The IRGC is an Iranian Government agency tasked with defending the Iranian Regime from perceived internal and external threats. Hereafter, this advisory refers to all the coauthors of this advisory as “the authoring agencies.”
This advisory updates joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities, which provides information on these Iranian government-sponsored APT actors exploiting known Fortinet and Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities to gain initial access to a broad range of targeted entities in furtherance of malicious activities, including ransom operations. The authoring agencies now judge these actors are an APT group affiliated with the IRGC.
Since the initial reporting of this activity in the FBI Liaison Alert System (FLASH) report APT Actors Exploiting Fortinet Vulnerabilities to Gain Access for Malicious Activity from May 2021, the authoring agencies have continued to observe these IRGC-affiliated actors exploiting known vulnerabilities for initial access. In addition to exploiting Fortinet and Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities, the authoring agencies have observed these APT actors exploiting VMware Horizon Log4j vulnerabilities for initial access. The IRGC-affiliated actors have used this access for follow-on activity, including disk encryption and data extortion, to support ransom operations.
The IRGC-affiliated actors are actively targeting a broad range of entities, including entities across multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors as well as Australian, Canadian, and United Kingdom organizations. These actors often operate under the auspices of Najee Technology Hooshmand Fater LLC, based in Karaj, Iran, and Afkar System Yazd Company, based in Yazd, Iran. The authoring agencies assess the actors are exploiting known vulnerabilities on unprotected networks rather than targeting specific targeted entities or sectors.
This advisory provides observed tactics, techniques, and indicators of compromise (IOCs) that the authoring agencies assess are likely associated with this IRGC-affiliated APT. The authoring agencies urge organizations, especially critical infrastructure organizations, to apply the recommendations listed in the Mitigations section of this advisory to mitigate risk of compromise from these IRGC-affiliated cyber actors.
For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see AA22-257A.stix.
For more information on Iranian state-sponsored malicious cyber activity, see CISA’s Iran Cyber Threat Overview and Advisories webpage and FBI’s Iran Threat webpage.
Download the PDF version of this report: pdf, 836 kb
As reported in joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities, the authoring agencies have observed Iranian government-sponsored APT actors scanning for and/or exploiting the following known Fortinet FortiOS and Microsoft Exchange server vulnerabilities since early 2021 to gain initial access to a broad range of targeted entities: CVE-2018-13379, CVE-2020-12812, CVE-2019-5591, and CVE-2021-34473 (a ProxyShell vulnerability). The authoring agencies have also observed these APT actors leveraging CVE-2021-34473 against U.S. networks in combination with ProxyShell vulnerabilities CVE-2021-34523 and CVE-2021-31207. The NCSC judges that Yazd, Iran-based company Afkar System Yazd Company is actively targeting UK organizations. Additionally, ACSC judges that these APT actors have used CVE-2021-34473 in Australia to gain access to systems. The APT actors can leverage this access for further malicious activities, including deployment of tools to support ransom and extortion operations, and data exfiltration.
Since the activity was reported in 2021, these IRGC-affiliated actors have continued to exploit known vulnerabilities for initial access. In addition to exploiting Fortinet and Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities, the authoring agencies have observed these APT actors exploiting VMware Horizon Log4j vulnerabilities CVE-2021-44228 (“Log4Shell”), CVE-2021-45046, and CVE-2021-45105 for initial access.
The IRGC-affiliated actors have used their access for ransom operations, including disk encryption and extortion efforts. After gaining access to a network, the IRGC-affiliated actors likely determine a course of action based on their perceived value of the data. Depending on the perceived value, the actors may encrypt data for ransom and/or exfiltrate data. The actors may sell the data or use the exfiltrated data in extortion operations or “double extortion” ransom operations where a threat actor uses a combination of encryption and data theft to pressure targeted entities to pay ransom demands.
IRGC-affiliated actor activity observed by the authoring agencies includes:
Note: This advisory uses the MITRE ATT&CK for Enterprise framework, version 11. See Appendix B for a table of the MITRE ATT&CK tactics and techniques observed.
The authoring agencies assess the following tactics and techniques are associated with this activity.
The IRGC-affiliated actors have used the following malicious and legitimate tools [T1588.001, T1588.002] for a variety of tactics across the enterprise spectrum:
Note: For additional tools used by these IRGC-affiliated cyber actors, see joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities.
As stated in the Technical Details section previously reported in joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities, the IRGC-affiliated actors gained initial access by exploiting known vulnerabilities [T1190].
The following IOCs, observed as of March 2022, are indicative of ProxyShell vulnerability exploitation on targeted entity networks:
The following IOCs, observed as of December 2021, are indicative of Log4j vulnerability exploitation on targeted entity networks:
The IRGC-affiliated 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:
Note: The potential exists that tasks associated with CacheTask or Wininet may be legitimate. For additional tasks used by these IRGC-affiliated cyber actors, see joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities.
The IRGC-affiliated actors established new user accounts on domain controllers, servers, workstations, and active directories [T1136.001, T1136.002]. The actors enabled a built-in Windows account (DefaultAccount) and escalated privileges to gain administrator-level access to a network. 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:
Note: For additional account usernames associated with this activity, see joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities.
The authoring agencies have observed the IRGC-affiliated actors dumping and subsequently exfiltrating the Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS) process memory on targeted entity networks in furtherance of credential harvesting. The following IOCs are associated with data exfiltration from targeted entity networks:
The IRGC-affiliated actors forced BitLocker activation on host networks to encrypt data [T1486] and held the decryption keys for ransom. The corresponding ransom notes were sent to the targeted entity, left on the targeted entity network as a
Note: For additional contact information included in ransom notes, see joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities.
The authoring agencies recommend that organizations using Microsoft Exchange servers, Fortinet devices, and/or VMware Horizon applications 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 authoring agencies urge network defenders to prepare for and mitigate potential cyber threats immediately by implementing the mitigations below.
In addition to applying mitigations, the authoring agencies recommend exercising, testing, and validating your organization’s security program against the threat behaviors mapped to the MITRE ATT&CK for Enterprise framework in this advisory. The authoring agencies recommend testing your existing security controls inventory to assess how they perform against the ATT&CK techniques described in this advisory.
To get started:
The authoring agencies recommend continually testing your security program, at scale, in a production environment to ensure optimal performance against the MITRE ATT&CK techniques identified in this advisory.
If a ransomware or extortion incident occurs at your organization:
Note: The authoring agencies strongly discourage paying ransoms as doing so does not guarantee files and records will be recovered and may pose sanctions risks.
This advisory was developed by U.S., Australian, Canadian, and UK cybersecurity authorities in furtherance of their respective cybersecurity missions, including their responsibilities to develop and issue cybersecurity specifications and mitigations.
The information in this report is being provided “as is” for informational purposes only. FBI, CISA, NSA, USCC-CNMF, DoT, ACSC, CCCS, and NCSC do not endorse any commercial product or service, including any subjects of analysis. Any reference to specific commercial products, processes, or services by service mark, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation, or favoring.
IP addresses and executables files are listed below. For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see AA22- 257A.stix.
Note: Some of these observed IP addresses may be outdated. The authoring agencies recommend organizations investigate or vet these IP addresses prior to taking action, such as blocking.
Malicious files observed in this activity are identified in Table 1. Many of the below malicious files are masquerading as legitimate Windows files; therefore, file names alone should not be treated as an indicator of compromise. Note: For additional malicious files observed, see joint CSA Iranian Government-Sponsored APT Cyber Actors Exploiting Microsoft Exchange and Fortinet Vulnerabilities in Furtherance of Malicious Activities.
Table 2 identifies MITRE ATT&CK Tactics and techniques observed in this activity.
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]
Data Encrypted for Impact [T1486]
This product is provided subject to this Notification and this Privacy & Use policy.
Please share your thoughts.
We recently updated our anonymous product survey; we’d welcome your feedback.
Send us email
Download PGP/GPG keys
Submit website feedback
Receive security alerts, tips, and other updates.
CISA is part of the Department of Homeland Security