A US court has granted Microsoft control of 99 websites widely associated with an Iranian group that was used to conduct hacking operations globally. The court authorized Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) to take control of the websites belonging to the group called Phosphorus (also known as APT 35, Charming Kitten and Ajax Security Team) so that these can no longer be used to execute cyber attacks.
“Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) and the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) have been tracking Phosphorus since 2013,” said Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security and Trust at Microsoft in a blog post late Wednesday. Its activity is usually designed to gain access to the computer systems of businesses and government agencies and steal sensitive information.
“Its targets also include activists and journalists – especially those involved in advocacy and reporting on issues related to the Middle East,” Burt added. Phosphorus typically attempts to compromise the personal accounts of individuals through a technique known as spear-phishing, using social engineering to entice someone to click on a link, sometimes sent through fake social media accounts that appear to belong to friendly contacts.
The link contains malicious software that enables Phosphorus to access computer systems. “Phosphorus also uses a technique, whereby it sends people an email that makes it seem as if there’s a security risk to their accounts, prompting them to enter their credentials into a web form that enables the group to capture their passwords and gain access to their systems,” Burt informed.
Websites registered and used by Phosphorus include, for example, outlook-verify.net, yahoo-verify.net, verification-live.com, and myaccount-services.net. “The action we executed last week enabled us to take control of 99 websites and redirect traffic from infected devices to our Digital Crime Unit’s sinkhole,” said Microsoft.