Researchers at Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) are tracking phishing campaigns by the Iranian threat actor APT35 (also known as Charming Kitten). The attackers used compromised websites to harvest users’ credentials.

“In early 2021, APT35 compromised a website affiliated with a UK university to host a phishing kit,” the researchers write. “ Attackers sent email messages with links to this website to harvest credentials for platforms such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo. Users were instructed to activate an invitation to a (fake) webinar by logging in. The phishing kit will also ask for second-factor authentication codes sent to devices. APT35 has relied on this technique since 2017 — targeting high-value accounts in government, academia, journalism, NGOs, foreign policy, and national security. Credential phishing through a compromised website demonstrates these attackers will go to great lengths to appear legitimate – as they know it’s difficult for users to detect this kind of attack.”

Google notes that the attackers also posed as conference officials to target people interested in events held in Munich and Italy.

“One of the most notable characteristics of APT35 is their impersonation of conference officials to conduct phishing attacks,” the researchers write. “Attackers used the Munich Security and the Think-20 (T20) Italy conferences as lures in non-malicious first contact email messages to get users to respond. When they did, attackers sent them phishing links in follow-on correspondence. Targets typically had to navigate through at least one redirect before landing on a phishing domain. Link shorteners and click trackers are heavily used for this purpose, and are oftentimes embedded within PDF files. We’ve disrupted attacks using Google Drive, App Scripts, and Sites pages in these campaigns as APT35 tries to get around our defenses. Services from Dropbox and Microsoft are also abused.”

New-school security awareness training can enable your employees to thwart both criminal and state-sponsored social engineering attacks.