Warning from Kaspersky Lab second in recent month involving heightened threat activity in Middle East and North Africa.
Cyber threat activity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) appears to be ramping up.
Gaza Cybergang, a threat actor that has been targeting organizations in the MENA region since at least 2012, has added new malicious tools to its cyber arsenal, Kaspersky Lab warned Monday.
Among the new tools are exploits for a fairly recent vulnerability in Microsoft Access (CVE 2017-0199), at least one Android spyware sample, and spearphishing documents with highly topical geopolitical messages for delivering malware to targets.
Gaza Cybergang has continuously attacked government organizations, oil and gas companies, embassies, diplomatic staff and media in the MENA region for the past several years and recently appears to have expanded its operations there, Kaspersky Lab said.
Now the focus appears to be on gathering any type of intelligence across the Middle East and North Africa, which was not the case previously, the vendor noted. One of the group’s latest victims is an oil and gas company that appears to have been infiltrated more than a year ago.
The Kaspersky Lab report is the second warning in recent weeks that involves a threat actor in the Middle East and North Africa and suggests that cyber criminal activity in the region is accelerating.
In September, Palo Alto Networks warned about a massive adversary infrastructure it had discovered that is being used to target government and private organizations, including those in critical sectors, across the Middle East and North Africa. Palo Alto Networks had described the threat campaign it discovered as having links to another campaign involving OilRig, a malware tool that has been used to steal data from government, airline, financial services, and other organizations in Saudi Arabia.
A lot of the activty is being fueled by what Trend Micro recently described as a thriving cybercrime underground market that provides threat actors in the MENA region with easy – and often free – access to sophisticated malware tools.
According to Kaspersky Lab, the Gaza Cybergang has been using spearphishing emails with malware-laced attachments and download-links to infect target systems.
Starting around March this year, the group has also begun using Microsoft Access documents with embedded macros to take control of systems and infect them with malware for logging keystrokes, stealing files, and taking screenshots on victim devices. The exploit for the Microsoft Access vulnerability has given the attackers direct code execution abilities from Microsoft Office documents on non-patched systems, Kaspersky Lab said.
The Gaza Cybergang has increasingly begun using local incidents with geopolitical or humanitarian implications to craft its spearphishing emails. Examples of recent lures have included emails with subjects pertaining to the Palestinian government not paying salaries to Gaza employees, the political crisis in Qatar, and news about a hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Some of the files that Kaspersky Lab has investigated suggest that the Gaza Cybergang may have an Android Trojan in their toolkit as well, the company said. The new tools have equipped the threat actor with the ability to bypass many current security products and remain persistent on a victim’s network for a prolonged period.
“Due to significant improvements in the group’s techniques, we expect the quantity and quality of Gaza Cybergang attacks to intensify in the near future,” Kaspersky Lab said. “People and organizations that fall into their target scope should be more cautious when online.”
Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year … View Full Bio