Threat Actors are Working Together. Defenders Should Collaborate Too!

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We previously published that we suspected that there were more than one threat actor targeting the Al-Jazeera journalists.

Background

ZecOps discovered NSO attacks that targeted Al-Jazeera automatically using ZecOps Mobile EDR & DFIR solutions. Our initial analysis suggested that the footprint does not belong only to NSO.

ZecOps Mobile Threat Intelligence Brief

ZecOps can now confirm, with high-confidence, that the attacks targeting journalists in Middle East were caused by at least two commercial threat actors working together, and the attack launched by a nation-state that purchased NSO’s exploit-platform. 

This may sound like a minor detail, but every detail in attribution is crucial.

nso-group-threat-actors

In the last transparency report by NSO, they published that they limit the usage.

NSO published limit

This can be translated into “We have a license based attack-as-a-service model. We only sell a certain amount of attack licenses to a certain buyer.”. While this intelligence is not fully confirmed, and should be taken with a grain of salt, our intelligence also suggests that “Desert Cobra” (state actor) purchased an ‘unlimited number of licenses’ package to carry out attacks using NSO’s software.

NSO acquired exploits from another supplier and leveraged the borrowed exploit in the attack launched by the end-buyer (Desert Cobrat) against Al-Jazeera journalists. It is unclear if the  end-customer, a government, was aware that parts of the exploit chain were obtained from another threat-actor and sold as a package.

Bottom line

As threat actors working together, defenders should be working together too. We hope that the vendors reading this will enable SOCs around the world with better access in-order to find and capture payloads by threat actors like NSO, that will always find a way, or as we can see in this post “buy their way”, to bypass all the existing mitigations and security controls.

ZecOps Mobile EDR Customers: no further action is required. ZecOps discovered the Al-Jazeera attack, and other NSO related incidents automatically. The deployed systems detect these activities. The complete report and full IOC list is available in ZecOps Mobile Threat Intelligence feed.

Al Jazeera NSO Attack IOCs:

  • /private/var/tmp/uevkjdwxijvah/c
  • /private/var/db/com.apple.xpc.roleaccountd.staging/launchafd
  • /private/var/db/com.apple.xpc.roleaccountd.staging/rs
  • /private/var/db/com.apple.xpc.roleaccountd.staging/natgd

Unfortunately, due to iOS sandbox restrictions, it is not trivial to check for these IOCs. If you would like to check your phone for these IOCs, other attacks by NSO, or other threat actors, please feel free to contact us here.

Free Mobile Inspection

To help discover these attacks, for a limited time, ZecOps is offering free mobile inspections to businesses that were targeted in the NSO leak. For your instant inspection, fill out the form below.

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