Iranian Hackers Compromised a U.S. Federal Agency’s Network Using Log4Shell Exploit

Iranian government-sponsored threat actors have been blamed for compromising a U.S. federal agency by taking advantage of the Log4Shell vulnerability in an unpatched VMware Horizon server.

The details, which were shared by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), come in response to incident response efforts undertaken by the authority from mid-June through mid-July 2022.

“Cyber threat actors exploited the Log4Shell vulnerability in an unpatched VMware Horizon server, installed XMRig crypto mining software, moved laterally to the domain controller (DC), compromised credentials, and then implanted Ngrok reverse proxies on several hosts to maintain persistence,” CISA noted.

LogShell, aka CVE-2021-44228, is a critical remote code execution flaw in the widely-used Apache Log4j Java-based logging library. It was addressed by the open source project maintainers in December 2021.

The latest development marks the continued abuse of the Log4j vulnerabilities in VMware Horizon servers by Iranian state-sponsored groups since the start of the year. CISA did not attribute the event to a particular hacking group.

However, a joint advisory released by Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. in September 2022 pointed fingers at Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for leveraging the shortcoming to carry out post-exploitation activities.

The affected organization, per CISA, is believed to have been breached as early as February 2022 by weaponizing the vulnerability to add a new exclusion rule to Windows Defender that allowlisted the entire C: drive.

Doing so made it possible for the adversary to download a PowerShell script without triggering any antivirus scans, which, in turn, retrieved the XMRig cryptocurrency mining software hosted on a remote server in the form of a ZIP archive file.

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