Researchers are fairly confident that the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas is behind the cyber espionage group known as Gaza Hackers Team, Gaza Cybergang and Molerats.
The threat actor, believed to be active since at least 2012, has been monitored by several security firms, including Kaspersky Lab, FireEye, PwC and ClearSky. The group’s campaigns have focused on countries in the Middle East, such as Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iraq, but attacks have also been observed against entities in the United States and Europe.
A report published by ClearSky in January detailed DustySky (aka NeD Worm), a multi-stage malware that the group had been using since May 2015. In its report, the security firm noted that the attackers seemed to be located in Gaza.
At the time, ClearSky said it had found information that led them to the online accounts of a software engineer based in Gaza, but they did not reveal his identity. In a follow-up report on DustySky published on Thursday, researchers disclosed the individual’s identity and provided additional information on the group’s activities.
ClearSky identified the alleged hacker after finding his email address in the metadata of a malicious document used in Gaza Cybergang’s attacks. The email address, moayy2ad(at)hotmail.com, led investigators to accounts on several websites, including Blogger, YouTube, Google+, Twitter and Facebook. It was also linked to a developer who had published a flashlight app on Google Play. Most of the accounts were either restricted or disabled following the security firm’s first report.
According to ClearSky, the Gaza Cybergang attacks targeting the Middle East ceased after the company published its report in January. The attacks against Middle Eastern countries were resumed within 20 days, except for Israel, which the hackers only started targeting again in early April.
After they released the first report, researchers were contacted by someone interested in learning more about the individual whose identity was not disclosed. ClearSky first received an email purporting to come from the Israel Defense Force (IDF), but it was not very convincing since it came from a Gmail address.
A few days later, the company got a phone call from someone claiming to be an official from one of the countries mentioned in the report. The company asked the caller to send an email, which they did, but again using a fake email address.
Experts believe that the individual whose online accounts they identified contacted them to find out how much they knew about him.
An analysis of the links contained in the threat group’s spear phishing emails revealed that the hackers targeted individuals in the Palestinian National Authority, Israel, the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The list of targets includes Egyptian diplomats and employees of the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Israeli banks and defense companies, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a diplomat in the European Commission, a former politician and a lobbying organization in the UK, and an employee of the US Department of State.
Researchers determined that the DustySky malware is designed to scan infected computers for certain keywords, including ones related to military issues, personal documents, certificates, private keys, and credentials for email and other types of accounts.
“Based on the type of targets, on Gaza being the source of the attacks, and on the type of information the attackers are after – we estimate with medium-high certainty that the Hamas terrorist organization is behind these attacks,” ClearSky said in its report.
FireEye, which has dubbed this threat actor “Molerats,” agrees with ClearSky’s conclusion.
“The conclusion of the report is consistent with our research and this is one of two actors we track from the area,” John Hultquist, Manager of Threat Intel at FireEye, told SecurityWeek. “We have tracked them for three years now and their activity is not limited to the Levant.”