Iraq's bloody civil war has spilled over onto the internet, notes a researcher that has spotted a large increase in cyber-espionage tools and other forms of malware.
Members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) group have made extensive use of social media to spread slickly produced propaganda as an accompaniment to their advances into northern Iraq. This has led to restrictions on social media (now partially relaxed) and blocks on various websites by Iraq's ISPs.
What's gone largely unreported, by comparison, is the accompanying sharp increase in malware activity in the strife-torn country.
"Several new botnets using dynamic DNS have been detected, which might have been used for cyber espionage and targeted multi-staged cyber attacks, reports cyber intelligence outfit IntelCrawler.
IntelCrawler adds that harmful activity is concentrated in four Iraq cities: Baghdad Erbil, Basra and Mosul. A lot of malware is home-brewed and much of it has previously featured in the Syrian civil war, where ISIS has become a key player over recent months. A substantial segment of the command nodes used in the cyber-spying were hosted on no-IP domains that later became the target of a controversial Microsoft-led takedown operation this week, IntelCrawler adds.
Collected technical indicators have also shown a large pool of self-written RAT (Remote Administration Toolkits) using Secure Sockets (SOCKS) and FTP/HTTP BackConnect with embedded file system browser for infected victims remote monitoring masked under Google Chrome and publicly available software. The usage of njRAT, one of a number of tools being used to target Syrian opposition groups during the Syrian conflict, as well as other malware related to Arabic speaking community, is also very visible in the region, having registered C&Cs at “no-ip.biz” and “zapto.org” free DNS.
Hackers are also reportedly using hacking techniques to hijack home router connections, according to IntelCrawler.
Significant numbers of SOHO-routers located in IPv4 ranges of Iraq were also compromised using targeted mass exploitation of vulnerabilities in UPnP and bruteforcing, which may lead to potential network surveillance for Internet traffic control used by conflicted parties in this region. The share of Iraqi-based bad actors involved into various illegal activities in cyberspace acting as mercenaries seems to have significantly increased. Most appear united with Egypt, Lybian, Lebanese, Iranian, Syrian and various distributed Islamic groups performing targeted attacks because of religious and political motivation supported by state parties.