A half-dozen oil and gas and government agencies in the Middle East suffered a hack from attackers using a mix of hacktivist, nation-state, and pure cybercrime techniques.
The attackers, who go under the moniker SSTEAM, ultimately gained control of the website servers and used Trojan backdoors to hack into other systems within the victim organization, said researchers from General Dynamics Fidelis.
Jim Jaeger, chief cyber services strategist for General Dynamics Fidelis Cybersecurity Solutions, said the latest twist to the attacks is there are more victims, including Middle Eastern government agencies. “It appears to target those organizations and to gain access to their Web servers, and then move laterally with backdoors,” he said.
The attackers leave a calling card on the sites, with an Anonymous icon and the message “Hacked by STTEAM,” as well as Arabic language text and a note threatening oil and gas ministries. Jaeger said it appears the hacktivist defacement is more of a false flag to hide the attackers’ infiltration of the victims’ network via the Web servers using two different Trojan backdoors.
It doesn’t appear to be a nation-state group because the malware does not give that type of indication. “It’s probably criminals trying to get information that they could sell,” he said. “We don’t see nation-state footprints.”
One backdoor contains Turkish words and is able to grab system information, connect to SQL databases, list tables and execute commands, browse directories, and move and copy files and folders or delete them, although there has been no proof thus far of data destruction by the attacks.
A second backdoor is able to do the same as the first, but also can add users to the system, add a user to the administrator group, disable a Windows firewall, enable RDP, delete IIS logs, and run Netcat as a reverse backdoor shell.
Just where the attackers come from is difficult to discern because they use an anonymous tunnel, Jaeger said. Fidelis contacted the victim organizations, one of which the company has been working with. “We’re seeing this pick-up of activity in the Middle East,” he said.
Click here for the full report on the STTEAM attacks.