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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A hacker group associated with the Iranian government is selling “access to compromised networks on an underground forum,” likely without Tehran’s blessing, according to research by threat intelligence firm CrowdStrike.

Why it matters: That these Iranian hackers were apparently caught trying to make money on the side may show the dangers of relying on likely underpaid contractors to conduct sensitive offensive cyber operations.

What’s happening: The group, which CrowdStrike has named “Pioneer Kitten,” has been active since 2017, with its last known activity occurring in July 2020.

  • The group has focused on hacking North American and Israeli targets in the “technology, government, defense, healthcare, aviation, media, academic, engineering, consulting and professional services, chemical, manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and retail” sectors, says CrowdStrike, with a particular focus on government, defense and tech firms.
  • Pioneer Kitten often focuses on targets of opportunity, says CrowdStrike, such as unpatched devices, showing that you don’t need to employ advanced tactics to achieve operational results.

The intrigue: In late July, CrowdStrike observed someone associated with Pioneer Kitten selling access to hacked networks online.

  • CrowdStrike believes this commercial activity would not have been sanctioned by Tehran and that Pioneer Kitten may therefore consist of contractors associated with the Iranian government — not actual intelligence officers.

Go deeper

Nov 27, 2020 - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

First look: The LCV's $4M ad buy

A screenshot from a new League of Conservation Voters ad supporting Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

The League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power are aiming another $4 million worth of ads at centrist House Democrats, urging them to support the climate provisions in President Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Progressive groups are trying to counter the onslaught of conservative money pouring into swing districts. Both sides are trying to define Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda and pressure lawmakers to support — or oppose — the legislation scheduled for a vote in the House this week.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Shutdown Plan B

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Senate will hold a futile vote Monday night — just 72 hours before a potential shutdown — on a House-passed bill to fund the government through Dec. 3 and raise the debt limit.

Why it matters: The bill is going to fail. Period. But then comes Plan B: A "clean" continuing resolution — stripped of language about raising the debt limit — that Democrats spent the past week preparing, Axios is told.