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Cyber spying: NCC raises alarm over Iranian hackers targeting telcos, ministries

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has alerted Nigerians over the existence of an Iranian hacking group called ‘Lyceum’ — which orchestrates cyber spying in the African telecoms space.

 

In a statement on Monday, Ikechukwu Adinde, NCC’s director of public affairs, said the hacking group infiltrates the network of telecoms companies and internet service providers (ISPs).

 

“An Iranian hacking group known as Lyceum (also known as Hexane, Siamesekitten, or Spirlin) has been reported to be targeting telecoms, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Africa with upgraded malware in a recent politically motivated attacks oriented in cyberespionage,” the statement reads.

 

“Information about this cyber attack is contained in the latest advisory issued by the Nigerian Computer Emergency Response Team (ngCERT). The ngCERT rated the probability and damage level of the new malware as high.”

 

Adinde said that between July and October 2021, Lyceum was implicated in attacks against ISPs and telecoms in Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia.

 

“The advanced persistent threat (APT) group has been linked to campaigns that hit Middle Eastern oil and gas companies in the past. Now, the group appears to have expanded its focus to the technology sector,” the statement further reads.

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“In addition, the APT is responsible for a campaign against an unnamed African government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

 

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Adinde listed Lyceum’s initial onslaught vectors – by the attackers’ mode of operation – to include credential stuffing and brute-force attacks.

 

He explained that once a victim’s system was compromised, the attackers would conduct surveillance on specific targets while Lyceum would attempt to deploy two different kinds of malware – Shark and Milan (known together as James).

 

“Both malware are backdoors. Shark, a 32-bit executable written in C# and .NET, generates a configuration file for domain name system (DNS) tunnelling or Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) C2 communications; whereas Milan – a 32-bit Remote Access Trojan (RAT) retrieves data,” the statement adds.

 

“Both are able to communicate with the group’s command-and-control (C2) servers. The APT maintains a C2 server network that connects to the group’s backdoors, consisting of over 20 domains, including six that were previously not associated with the threat actors.

 

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“According to reports, individual accounts at companies of interest are usually targeted, and then once these accounts are breached, they are used as a springboard to launch spear-phishing attacks against high-profile executives in an organization.

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“The report suggests that not only do these attackers seek out data on subscribers and connected third-party companies, but once compromised, threat actors or their sponsors can also use these industries to surveil individuals of interest.”

 

To guard against this threat, Adinde advised telecommunication companies and ISPs to adopt multiple layers of security and constant network monitoring to protect against potential attacks.

 

He further advised telecom consumers to ensure the consistent usage of firewalls to help detect and prevent attacks.

 

 “Implement the use of Intrusion Prevention Systems that monitor your network; Create a secure sandboxing environment that allows you to open and run untrusted programs or codes without risking harm to your operating system,” he added.

 

“Ensure the use of the virtual private network (VPN) to prevent an easy opportunity for APT hackers to gain initial access to your company’s network; Enable spam and malware protection for your email applications, and educate your employees on how to identify potentially malicious emails.”

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