Iran-Aligned Threat Actor "CharmingCypress" Launches Spear Phishing Attacks

Iran-Aligned Threat ActorResearchers at Volexity warn that the suspected Iranian threat actor CharmingCypress (also known as “Charming Kitten” or “APT42”) has been launching spear phishing attacks against Middle Eastern policy experts.

“Throughout 2023, Volexity observed a wide range of spear-phishing activity conducted by CharmingCypress,” the researchers write.

“This activity included spoofing individuals from different organizations, including the use of personas tied to media organizations and research institutions. In September and October 2023, CharmingCypress engaged in a series of spear-phishing attacks in which they masqueraded as the Rasanah International Institute for Iranian Studies (IIIS). CharmingCypress registered multiple, typo-squatted domains for use in these attacks that are similar to the organization’s actual domain, rasanah-iiis[.]org.”

In one instance, the threat actor went through the trouble of setting up a fake webinar platform as part of the social engineering attack.

“In their phishing campaigns, CharmingCypress often employs unusual social-engineering tactics, such as engaging targets in prolonged conversations over email before sending links to malicious content,” the researchers write.

“In a particularly notable spear-phishing campaign observed by Volexity, CharmingCypress went so far as to craft an entirely fake webinar platform to use as part of the lure. CharmingCypress controlled access to this platform, requiring targets to install malware-laden VPN applications prior to granting access.”

The phony webinar platform was highly detailed and designed to target specific individuals.

“Inspecting the fake webinar portal shows the threat actor invested a significant level of effort,” Volexity says. “The portal includes the logo of the impersonated organization within a full web portal interface that includes a series of tabs....Within the portal, profiles of 16 individuals were populated and associated with a specific webinar. Volexity reverse engineered the malware-laden VPN application and identified 16 sets of MD5-hashed credentials with usernames. When these credentials were cracked, they yielded plaintext usernames associated to individuals that Volexity assesses with high confidence were targets of this campaign. All 16 individuals are experts in policy regarding the Middle East.”

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Volexity has the story.

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