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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting in Armenia in early October. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies confirmed Monday that the Russian espionage hacker group Turla used tools and infrastructure from Iranian espionage group OilRig, likely without the Iranian group's knowledge.

Why it matters: Moves like this can sometimes confound efforts to understand who exactly has spied on what. And, by monitoring malware implanted by Iran, Turla saved itself the effort of hacking targets directly.

  • The backdrop: OilRig traditionally spies on Middle Eastern targets. Turla, whose operations are more global in nature, is only known by the NSA and NCSC to have used OilRig malware when spying on Middle Eastern targets.

Details: An investigation by the NSA and the U.K.'s lead cybersecurity intelligence agency details that malware that Turla has used since at least 2017 was "very likely Iranian in origin," according to a report released by the U.K.'s National Cyber Security Centre.

  • OilRig was "almost certainly not aware of, or complicit with, Turla’s use of their implants," according to the report.
  • More than just re-appropriating malware, it appears Turla piggy-backed on OilRig's control infrastructure and even used the malware implanted by the OilRig hackers to do its own espionage.
  • Turla's use of OilRig hacking infrastructure was first reported by Symantec in June.
  • The NSA and NCSC are the first to note that the malware tools Nautilus and Neuron, once thought to be from Turla, are actually from Iran.

The bottom line: In one fell swoop, the Western allies have left egg on the faces of both Iran and Russia, two key rivals in the cyber domain.

Go deeper

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.

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