Iranian hackers restart attacks on universities as the new school year begins

This time they hosted phishing servers in Iran, immune to any takedown attempts.

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A group of Iranian hackers with a history of attacking academic institutions have come back to life to launch a new series of phishing campaigns, security firm Malwarebytes said today.

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The new attacks were timed to coincide with the start of the new academic years when both students and university staff were expected to be active on university portals.

The attacks consisted of emails sent to victims. Known as "phishing emails," they contained links to a website posing as the university portal or an associated app, such as the university library.

The websites were hosted on sites with lookalike domains, but in reality, collected the victim's login credentials.

Attacks linked to Silent Librarian group

Malwarebytes says the attacks were all orchestrated by the same group, known in cyber-security circles under its codename of Silent Librarian.

The members of this group were indicted in the US in March 2018 for a long string of attacks against universities from all over the globe, dating back as far as 2013.

According to the US indictments, the hackers gained access to university portals from where they stole intellectual property or limited-release academic work, which they later re-sold on their own web portals (Megapaper.ir and Gigapaper.ir).

However, despite the US indictment, the hackers remained at large in Iran and mounted subsequent attacks.

These attacks usually took place each fall, right before the new school year. Their 2018 campaign was documented in a Secureworks report, while Proofpoint spotted last year's campaign.

Group is now hosting attack servers in Iran

But compared to the past attacks, the 2020 campaign is different.

Malwarebytes said this time around, Silent Librarian hosted some of its phishing sites on Iranian servers.

"It may seem odd for an attacker to use infrastructure in their own country, possibly pointing a finger at them. However, here it simply becomes another bulletproof hosting option based on the lack of cooperation between US or European law enforcement and local police in Iran," the US security firm said.

Below is a list of universities the group targeted, along with the phishing sites they used, in case students and university staff may want to review any past emails.

Phishing siteLegitimate siteTarget
library.adelaide.crev.melibrary.adelaide.edu.auThe University of Adelaide Library
signon.adelaide.edu.au.itlib.melibrary.adelaide.edu.auThe University of Adelaide Library
blackboard.gcal.crev.meblackboard.gcal.ac.ukGlasgow Caledonian University
blackboard.stonybrook.ernn.meblackboard.stonybrook.eduStony Brook University
blackboard.stonybrook.nrni.meblackboard.stonybrook.eduStony Brook University
namidp.services.uu.nl.itlib.menamidp.services.uu.nlUniversiteit Utrecht
uu.blackboard.rres.meuu.blackboard.comUniversiteit Utrecht
librarysso.vu.cvrr.melibrarysso.vu.edu.auVictoria University
ole.bris.crir.meole.bris.ac.ukUniversity of Bristol
idpz.utorauth.utoronto.ca.itlf.cfidpz.utorauth.utoronto.caUniversity of Toronto
raven.cam.ac.uk.iftl.tkraven.cam.ac.ukUniversity of Cambridge
login.ki.se.iftl.tklogin.ki.seKarolinska Medical Institutet
shib.york.ac.uk.iftl.tkshib.york.ac.ukUniversity of York
sso.id.kent.ac.uk.iftl.tksso.id.kent.ac.ukUniversity of Kent
idp3.it.gu.se.itlf.cfidp3.it.gu.seGöteborg universitet
login.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca.sftt.cflogin.proxy1.lib.uwo.caWestern University Canada
login.libproxy.kcl.ac.uk.itlt.tkkcl.ac.ukKing's College London
idcheck2.qmul.ac.uk.sftt.cfqmul.ac.ukQueen Mary University of London
lms.latrobe.aroe.melms.latrobe.edu.auMelbourne Victoria Australia
ntulearn.ntu.ninu.mentulearn.ntu.edu.sgNanyang Technological University
adfs.lincoln.ac.uk.itlib.meadfs.lincoln.ac.ukUniversity of Lincoln
cas.thm.de.itlib.mecas.thm.deTH Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences
libproxy.library.unt.edu.itlib.melibrary.unt.eduUniversity of North Texas
shibboleth.mcgill.ca.iftl.tkshibboleth.mcgill.caMcGill University
vle.cam.ac.uk.canm.mevle.cam.ac.ukUniversity of Cambridge