Infosec biz FireEye has suggested Iran may be responsible for what it claims are DNS hijacking attacks aimed at snooping on the contents of Middle Eastern governments' email inboxes.
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The firm's incident response and intelligence teams said they had spotted miscreants logging into
pxy1, described as "a proxy box used to conduct non-attributed browsing and as a jumpbox to other infrastructure".
From there they were seen to use previously stolen DNS admin creds to change basic DNS A records to point to IP addresses the bad actors controlled, establishing a man-in-the-middle setup. The researchers said the crew used a load balancer to ensure the technique passed through genuine web traffic, helping keep it invisible to users.
A Let's Encrypt free SSL certificate was used to get around any problems with mismatched certificates in the instances highlighted by FireEye. The company did point out that it had also seen "multiple Domain Control Validation providers being utilised as part of this campaign" so that particular part of the attack is not solely dependent upon Let's Encrypt certs.
Fireeye said it had also watched the manipulators using broadly similar techniques to fiddle with DNS nameservers, with the same ultimate aim of getting their hands on the contents of targets' email inboxes.
"While we do not currently link this activity to any tracked group, initial research suggests the actor or actors responsible have a nexus to Iran," mused FireEye in its blog post about the research.
The firm said that while it "suggested" people in Iran were involved with "moderate confidence", based on geolocation of IP addresses, the attack techniques "may not be exclusive to a single threat actor as the activity spans disparate timeframes, infrastructure, and service providers".
It also noted that "the activity aligns with Iranian government interests".
Those same IPs, however, "were previously observed during the response to an intrusion attributed to Iranian cyber espionage actors".
Iran, like other pariah states throughout the world, has some capable cyber-folk working for it. Back in August last year a potential BGP hack routed messages from chat app Telegram through Iran, while a staggering failure of basic opsec techniques helped Iranian counter-espionage units round up and neutralise American spies operating in their country – all thanks to a Google search. ®