ASSESSMENT: Operation Saffron Rose/Operation Flying Kitten
The Saffron Rose Narrative:
I think it was a slow news day at FireEye or that they felt they needed media attention and thus was born the “Saffron Rose” campaign report that was released Monday. The report makes the evocative implication that Iran is upping their game against other nation states by either state actors or hacking groups who want to be such. I frankly looked at the report and immediately began to see inconsistencies in the claim that this was nation state at all nor advanced any more than anyone with a version of SET and some domains to use.
As I looked into the claims and the details further the more convinced I became that my assessment was more true than the claims made by FireEye in their “Threat Intelligence” on the Ajax Security Team. The net/net of this is that these guys were nothing to write home about and that in my opinion this was just a marketing piece that used Iran as a hot button to garner attention for the company. I am still of that opinion even after talking to DIB players as well as the Federal government about the Ajax Team and their antics over the years to today.
The FireEye Data:
FireEye lays out the exploit (as in an exploit not the common vernacular in tech for those of you who know not English) and the C&C’s as usual with good details on how the mechanics work. The exploit though is in fact modified from a stock “stealer.exe” with some obfuscation crypto and a new pass/log it is still just an off the shelf known trojan and had been seen online since November 2013 if not earlier and there will be more on this below. Overall though FireEye makes a good attempt at nailing down the culprits but makes assumptions as to the level of expertise going from defacement skiddies to APT actors within a year or so.
The fact of the matter is that the primary movers of the group seem to be just two main actors in this phishing campaign and the group broke up and went their separate ways as they lacked money to keep domains and sites online. For that matter the people who own the domains and were active in the Ajax Team previously may have nothing to do with this campaign anyway as their domain was used without their consent. It remains to be seen just who did what but in the end the malware is detectable by AV systems and this is not a clear and present danger to the DIB partners on the whole.
The “Stealer.exe” named in the FireEye report as well as the “IntelRS.exe” were reported back in November of 2013 as being seen in the wild and when I began looking at the data from Google it became clear that anyone getting this trojan may well have been able to stop it with AV on board already. This was not overly exotic and in fact the malware is a COTS in the community where you can compile it as you like and use it much like the POS software out there reported on recently.
Malware is malware and of course you can change it a bit making the hashes obfuscated to AV systems or you can build in other security but in this instance it seems that these guys did the minimal work to send out these phishing emails. What they did do however was create the fake aviation site and the like which anyone now can do because it is common knowledge as far as tactics go today after all the APT discussions out there. Honestly these guys may have been looking for credentials to further access to pass on to their government but I am seriously doubting that they were sponsored at all in this endeavour. Is this not one of the tactics that we use in the Red Team industry? Can’t you even do it with just a copy of SET or CoreImpact? Yes.. Yes you can. So it is not advanced nor persistent. Nor a threat really. Admittedly though FireEye does stop at that line and makes no equivocal statement that it is indeed nation state so I give them that. Overall though, still nothing to write home about… Unless you are looking to garner attention for your company with the scary boogey man of Iran that is.
UPDATE: Folks are FE are upset and saying I am wrong about this being a common tool. They cite the hashes below as not being this tool. Yes yes, it is not the same hash and it is not being seen by AV on the whole but is this not the game here? You update the tool or re-write and then recompile to obfuscate the AV? When you look at the calls in the registry you see the same variant behaviour in earlier malware coming from Nov/Dec 2013. So yes, it’s new malware according to the hashes but this is not a new and exotic malware is my point. It’s a re-hash. While am at this once again here is the INTELIRS.EXE used in 2013 Nov. It’s a replay. So how uncommon is it if it’s already been used?
The Time Table:
Meanwhile, the FBI put out this BOLO on the intelIRS.exe back in December and listed at least “one” company being attacked with it. Since I got this I have talked to DIB people and yes, some saw the activity back in December and generally it was a blip on the radar and that was all. It was not a huge campaign and in the end it did not exfil a lot of data to the adversaries involved. Now if in fact these are the same actors here then either they re-packed their malware and tried again with DIB or FireEye is just catching on to this.. Or maybe they just wanted to let this out now in a lull period on their marketing management calendar… Overall I think that this is much ado about nothing and that this is old news but hey who am I anyway? I’m just the janitor really.
Now we get to the interesting bits that FireEye failed to give in their report. They did go as far as looking at who owned domains historically and looked for some ID’s on popular sites but that’s about where they left off. Perhaps they went further and are not reporting it but I am going to right here for you all. The two major players, if the domains were in fact still controlled by them and were behind this phish campaign are Keyvan Fayaz and Ali Ali Pur (Ali Alipur) Keyvan aka HURR!C4NE! and Ali aka Cair3x are both player from the early days of the Ajax Security Team of defacers and skidz.
As you can see from the data below, their email trails betrayed them eventually through re-use and I got their names. Of course overall these guys are not ninja’s really so it wasn’t all that hard to follow the Google trails to their real identities. In fact Ali is well known by his real name (as seen in a report from the ICT org) Keyvan goes by HURR!C4NE! or bl4ck.k3yv4n and eventually used his real name on a site that he had created early on with the K3yv4n moniker. What interested me further was that Keyvan also is connected with Soroush Dalili who is on LinkedIN as a pentester today. It seems they worked together back in the day finding vulns and publishing them. One has to wonder now if you would want to hire Soroush in any way since he had all this connection to the Ajax Team as recently as 2011.
As far as I have seen in my intelligence gathering on the current iteration of the Ajax Security Team, these are the players. The sites all came down due to non payment of domain costs and incidentally the blogs by cair3x are now gone as well post the FireEye report so at least there’s a good bit of intel that at least Ali was part of this phish campaign. It’s just the level at which he was involved that is at question. Overall though I would say that he and Keyvan were the ones doing this and that they certainly have not progressed to 3l337 ninja status or Chinese levels with this showing.
Threat Intelligence Report for AJAX SECURITY TEAM:
My final analysis is that this group of guys decided to get in on the action and they schooled up a bit on how APT act. They got some workable malware and set up a phish site with C&C’s to do their work and spammed a company within the DIB. The attack wasn’t overly exotic and the methods were lowest common denominator. If it was in fact something that the state of Iran was backing they certainly weren’t doing it very closely (i.e. monitoring these kids and helping them with technical know how) so my conclusion is that they did it on their own.
I do not think that the group is in fact working with other groups in Iran and evidence shows that even within the Islamic hacking scene these guys are small potato’s and were even prey to the hacking of one site by the JM511 in 2012 (passwords dumped and ID’s loosed) …So really it’s not a homogenous and formidable force we face coming out of Iran. Now that Ali (Cair3x) has been on a deletion spree I am sure that they will back up and take another look at how they might go about this in the future. Perhaps they will learn and get better. What I really would like to know though is just how much if any data was exfiltrated to Ajax with this phish campaign? This is something that FireEye nor anyone else is talking about so I assume that not much was made off with.
So, how does this report from FireEye help anyone other than what to look for as hashes go? No reports on the emails sent (structure, wording etc) to help people look for them in their spam systems. No real intel on who these guys are and why they are doing what they are doing other than the notions of national pride either. What are their targets? What are they looking to take if they are taking anything? What should we all as readers of this report be looking for to stop them?
….. ….. …..
Yeah, thanks FireEye for nothing. I guess it’s just buy our service and we will protect you eh?
This is one of my major beef’s with “Threat Intelligence” hawkers today. There’s barely even a C&C in this report that can be used. I mean this is all after the fact and it’s not a campaign as far as I can tell that is going on today so why report it? A fireside read is it? At the very least NAME THE ACTORS and make them uncomfortable. I guess it’s more about the cool factor along with the button pushing that gets the marketing wheels spinning eh?
Hey Ajax Team (Keyvan, and Ali) I see you.