Iranian Advanced Persistent Threat Actor Identified Obtaining Voter Registration Data

This advisory utilizes the MITRE Adversarial Ways, Techniques, and Widespread Awareness (ATT&CK®) version 7 framework. See the ATT&CK for Organization edition 7 for all referenced menace actor strategies and techniques.

This joint cybersecurity advisory was coauthored by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Company (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). CISA and the FBI are informed of an Iranian highly developed persistent risk (APT) actor concentrating on U.S. condition websites—to include election sites. CISA and the FBI evaluate this actor is dependable for the mass dissemination of voter intimidation email messages to U.S. citizens and the dissemination of U.S. election-similar disinformation in mid-Oct 2020.  (Reference FBI FLASH information ME-000138-TT, disseminated Oct 29, 2020). Even further analysis by CISA and the FBI has determined the focusing on of U.S. state election internet sites was an intentional energy to impact and interfere with the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Click on below for a PDF model of this report.

Investigation by CISA and the FBI indicates this actor scanned state web-sites, to consist of point out election sites, in between September 20 and September 28, 2020, with the Acunetix vulnerability scanner (Active Scanning: Vulnerability Scanning [T1595.002]). Acunetix is a broadly utilised and reputable web scanner, which has been employed by danger actors for nefarious needs. Companies that do not routinely use Acunetix must keep track of their logs for any activity from the system that originates from IP addresses delivered in this advisory and contemplate it destructive reconnaissance conduct. 

On top of that, CISA and the FBI observed this actor making an attempt to exploit sites to obtain copies of voter registration knowledge involving September 29 and October 17, 2020 (Exploit Community-Facing Application [T1190]). This includes attempted exploitation of recognized vulnerabilities, listing traversal, Structured Question Language (SQL) injection, net shell uploads, and leveraging exclusive flaws in web sites. 

CISA and the FBI can verify that the actor successfully received voter registration knowledge in at minimum a person point out. The access of voter registration details appeared to involve the abuse of internet site misconfigurations and a scripted method using the cURL software to iterate via voter data. A review of the documents that have been copied and obtained reveals the info was utilised in the propaganda video. 

CISA and FBI evaluation of discovered action versus point out web-sites, like state election websites, referenced in this merchandise are unable to all be thoroughly attributed to this Iranian APT actor. FBI evaluation of the Iranian APT actor’s action has recognized focusing on of U.S. elections’ infrastructure (Compromise Infrastructure [T1584]) in a related timeframe, use of IP addresses and IP ranges – together with various digital non-public network (VPN) services exit nodes – which correlate to this Iran APT actor (Assemble Victim Host Facts [T1592)]), and other investigative information. 


The FBI has details indicating this Iran-primarily based actor attempted to entry PDF documents from condition voter internet sites working with superior open-resource queries (Lookup Open up Internet sites and Domains [T1539]). The actor demonstrated interest in PDFs hosted on URLs with the words “vote” or “voter” and “registration.” The FBI determined queries of URLs for election-connected web-sites. 

The FBI also has information indicating the actor researched  the pursuing facts in a suspected attempt to further more their efforts to survey and exploit state election internet websites.

  • YOURLS exploit
  • Bypassing ModSecurity Web Application Firewall
  • Detecting Website Application Firewalls
  • SQLmap tool

Acunetix Scanning

CISA’s analysis discovered the scanning of a number of entities by the Acunetix World-wide-web Vulnerability scanning platform amongst September 20 and September 28, 2020 (Energetic Scanning: Vulnerability Scanning [T1595.002]). 

The actor applied the scanner to try SQL injection into various fields in /registration/registration/aspects with standing codes 404 or 500:

/registration/registration/details?addresscity=-1 or 3*2<(0+5+513-513) -- &addressstreet1=xxxxx&btnbeginregistration=begin voter registration&btnnextelectionworkerinfo=next&btnnextpersonalinfo=next&btnnextresdetails=next&btnnextvoterinformation=next&btnsubmit=submit&chkageverno=on&chkageveryes=on&chkcitizenno=on&chkcitizenyes=on&chkdisabledvoter=on&chkelectionworker=on&chkresprivate=1&chkstatecancel=on&dlnumber=1&dob=xxxx/x/x&email=sample@email.tst&firstname=xxxxx&gender=radio&hdnaddresscity=&hdngender=&last4ssn=xxxxx&lastname=xxxxxinjjeuee&


The actor used the following requests associated with this scanning activity.

2020-09-26 13:12:56 x.x.x.x GET /x/x v[$acunetix]=1 443 - x.x.x.x Mozilla/5.0+(Windows+NT+6.1+WOW64)+AppleWebKit/537.21+(KHTML,+like+Gecko)+Chrome/41.0.2228.0+Safari/537.21 - 200 0 0 0

2020-09-26 13:13:19 X.X.x.x GET /x/x voterid[$acunetix]=1 443 - x.x.x.x Mozilla/5.0+(Windows+NT+6.1+WOW64)+AppleWebKit/537.21+(KHTML,+like+Gecko)+Chrome/41.0.2228.0+Safari/537.21 - 200 0 0 1375

2020-09-26 13:13:18 .X.x.x GET /x/x voterid=print(md5(acunetix_wvs_security_test)) 443 - X.X.x.x 

User Agents Observed

CISA and FBI have observed the following user agents associated with this scanning activity.

Mozilla/5.0+(Windows+NT+6.1+WOW64)+AppleWebKit/537.21+(KHTML,+like+Gecko)+Chrome/41.0.2228.0+Safari/537.21 - 500 0 0 0 




Obtaining Voter Registration Data

Following the review of web server access logs, CISA analysts, in coordination with the FBI, found instances of the cURL and FDM User Agents sending GET requests to a web resource associated with voter registration data. The activity occurred between September 29 and October 17, 2020. Suspected scripted activity submitted several hundred thousand queries iterating through voter identification values, and retrieving results with varying levels of success [Gather Victim Identity Information (T1589)]. A sample of the records identified by the FBI reveals they match information in the aforementioned propaganda video.

The actor used the following requests.

2020-10-17 13:07:51 x.x.x.x GET /x/x voterid=XXXX1 443 - x.x.x.x curl/7.55.1 - 200 0 0 1406

2020-10-17 13:07:55 x.x.x.x GET /x/x voterid=XXXX2 443 - x.x.x.x curl/7.55.1 - 200 0 0 1390

2020-10-17 13:07:58 x.x.x.x GET /x/x voterid=XXXX3 443 - x.x.x.x curl/7.55.1 - 200 0 0 1625

2020-10-17 13:08:00 x.x.x.x GET /x/x voterid=XXXX4 443 - x.x.x.x curl/7.55.1 - 200 0 0 1390

Note: incrementing voterid values in cs_uri_query field

User Agents

CISA and FBI have observed the following user agents.



Mozilla/5.0+(Windows+NT+6.1+WOW64)+AppleWebKit/537.21+(KHTML,+like+Gecko)+Chrome/41.0.2228.0+Safari/537.21 - 500 0 0 0 

See figure 1 below for a timeline of the actor’s malicious activity.

Figure 1: Overview of malicious activity


Acunetix Scanning

Organizations can identify Acunetix scanning activity by using the following keywords while performing log analysis.

  • $acunetix
  • acunetix_wvs_security_test

Indicators of Compromise

For a downloadable copy of IOCs, see AA20-304A.stix.

Disclaimer: Many of the IP addresses included below likely correspond to publicly available VPN services, which can be used by individuals all over the world. Although this creates the potential for false positives, any activity listed should warrant further investigation. The actor likely uses various IP addresses and VPN services.

The following IPs have been associated with this activity.

  • 102.129.239[.]185 (Acunetix Scanning)
  • 143.244.38[.]60 (Acunetix Scanning and cURL requests)
  • 45.139.49[.]228 (Acunetix Scanning)
  • 156.146.54[.]90 (Acunetix Scanning)
  • 109.202.111[.]236 (cURL requests)
  • 185.77.248[.]17 (cURL requests)
  • 217.138.211[.]249 (cURL requests)
  • 217.146.82[.]207 (cURL requests)
  • 37.235.103[.]85 (cURL requests)
  • 37.235.98[.]64 (cURL requests)
  • 70.32.5[.]96 (cURL requests)
  • 70.32.6[.]20 (cURL requests)
  • 70.32.6[.]8 (cURL requests)
  • 70.32.6[.]97 (cURL requests)
  • 70.32.6[.]98 (cURL requests)
  • 77.243.191[.]21 (cURL requests and FDM+3.x (Free Download Manager v3) enumeration/iteration)
  • 92.223.89[.]73 (cURL requests)

CISA and the FBI are aware the following IOCs have been used by this Iran-based actor. These IP addresses facilitated the mass dissemination of voter intimidation email messages on October 20, 2020.

  • 195.181.170[.]244 (Observed September 30 and October 20, 2020)
  • 102.129.239[.]185 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 104.206.13[.]27 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 154.16.93[.]125 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 185.191.207[.]169 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 185.191.207[.]52 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 194.127.172[.]98 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 194.35.233[.]83 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 198.147.23[.]147 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 198.16.66[.]139(Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 212.102.45[.]3 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 212.102.45[.]58 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 31.168.98[.]73 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 37.120.204[.]156 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 5.160.253[.]50 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 5.253.204[.]74 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 64.44.81[.]68 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 84.17.45[.]218 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 89.187.182[.]106 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 89.187.182[.]111 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 89.34.98[.]114 (Observed September 30, 2020)
  • 89.44.201[.]211 (Observed September 30, 2020)


The following list provides recommended self-protection mitigation strategies against cyber techniques used by advanced persistent threat actors: 

  • Validate input as a method of sanitizing untrusted input submitted by web application users. Validating input can significantly reduce the probability of successful exploitation by providing protection against security flaws in web applications. The types of attacks possibly prevented include SQL injection, Cross Site Scripting (XSS), and command injection.
  • Audit your network for systems using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and other internet-facing services. Disable unnecessary services and install available patches for the services in use. Users may need to work with their technology vendors to confirm that patches will not affect system processes.
  • Verify all cloud-based virtual machine instances with a public IP, and avoid using open RDP ports, unless there is a valid need. Place any system with an open RDP port behind a firewall and require users to use a VPN to access it through the firewall.
  • Enable strong password requirements and account lockout policies to defend against brute-force attacks.
  • Apply multi-factor authentication, when possible.
  • Maintain a good information back-up strategy by routinely backing up all critical data and system configuration information on a separate device. Store the backups offline, verify their integrity, and verify the restoration process.
  • Enable logging and ensure logging mechanisms capture RDP logins. Keep logs for a minimum of 90 days and review them regularly to detect intrusion attempts.
  • When creating cloud-based virtual machines, adhere to the cloud provider's best practices for remote access.
  • Ensure third parties that require RDP access follow internal remote access policies.
  • Minimize network exposure for all control system devices. Where possible, critical devices should not have RDP enabled.
  • Regulate and limit external to internal RDP connections. When external access to internal resources is required, use secure methods, such as a VPNs. However, recognize the security of VPNs matches the security of the connected devices.
  • Use security features provided by social media platforms use strong passwords, change passwords frequently, and use a different password for each social media account. 
  • See CISA’s Tip on Best Practices for Securing Election Systems for more information. 

General Mitigations

Keep applications and systems updated and patched

Apply all available software updates and patches and automate this process to the greatest extent possible (e.g., by using an update service provided directly from the vendor). Automating updates and patches is critical because of the speed of threat actors to create new exploits following the release of  a patch. These “N-day” exploits can be as damaging as zero-day exploits. Ensure the authenticity and integrity of vendor updates by using signed updates delivered over protected links. Without the rapid and thorough application of patches, threat actors can operate inside a defender’s patch cycle. Additionally, use tools (e.g., the OWASP Dependency-Check Project tool ) to identify the publicly known vulnerabilities in third-party libraries depended upon by the application.

Scan web applications for SQL injection and other common web vulnerabilities

Implement a plan to scan public-facing web servers for common web vulnerabilities (e.g., SQL injection, cross-site scripting) by using a commercial web application vulnerability scanner in combination with a source code scanner. Fixing or patching vulnerabilities after they are identified is especially crucial for networks hosting older web applications. As sites get older, more vulnerabilities are discovered and exposed.

Deploy a web application firewall  

Deploy a web application firewall (WAF) to prevent invalid input attacks and other attacks destined for the web application. WAFs are intrusion/detection/prevention devices that inspect each web request made to and from the web application to determine if the request is malicious. Some WAFs install on the host system and others are dedicated devices that sit in front of the web application. WAFs also weaken the effectiveness of automated web vulnerability scanning tools. 

Deploy techniques to protect against web shells

Patch web application vulnerabilities or fix configuration weaknesses that allow web shell attacks, and follow guidance on detecting and preventing web shell malware. Malicious cyber actors often deploy web shells—software that can enable remote administration—on a victim’s web server. Malicious cyber actors can use web shells to execute arbitrary system commands commonly sent over HTTP or HTTPS. Attackers often create web shells by adding or modifying a file in an existing web application. Web shells provide attackers with persistent access to a compromised network using communications channels disguised to blend in with legitimate traffic. Web shell malware is a long-standing, pervasive threat that continues to evade many security tools. 

Use multi-factor authentication for administrator accounts

Prioritize protection for accounts with elevated privileges, remote access, or used on high-value assets. Use physical token-based authentication systems to supplement knowledge-based factors such as passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs). Organizations should migrate away from single-factor authentication, such as password-based systems, which are subject to poor user choices and more susceptible to credential theft, forgery, and password reuse across multiple systems.

Remediate critical web application security risks

First, identify and remediate critical web application security risks. Next, move on to other less critical vulnerabilities. Follow available guidance on securing web applications.  

How do I respond to unauthorized access to election-related systems?

Implement your security incident response and business continuity plan

It may take time for your organization’s IT professionals to isolate and remove threats to your systems and restore normal operations. In the meantime, take steps to maintain your organization’s essential functions according to your business continuity plan. Organizations should maintain and regularly test backup plans, disaster recovery plans, and business continuity procedures.

Contact CISA or law enforcement immediately 

To report an intrusion and to request incident response resources or technical assistance, contact CISA ( or 888-282-0870) or the FBI through a local field office or the FBI’s Cyber Division ( or 855-292-3937).



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