Iranian hackers restart attacks on universities as the new school year begins

A group of Iranian hackers with a history of attacking academic institutions have come back to life to launch a new series of phishing campaigns, security firm Malwarebytes said today.

The new attacks were timed to coincide with the start of the new academic years when both students and university staff were expected to be active on university portals.

The attacks consisted of emails sent to victims. Known as “phishing emails,” they contained links to a website posing as the university portal or an associated app, such as the university library.

The websites were hosted on sites with lookalike domains, but in reality, collected the victim’s login credentials.

Attacks linked to Silent Librarian group

Malwarebytes says the attacks were all orchestrated by the same group, known in cyber-security circles under its codename of Silent Librarian.

The members of this group were indicted in the US in March 2018 for a long string of attacks against universities from all over the globe, dating back as far as 2013.

According to the US indictments, the hackers gained access to university portals from where they stole intellectual property or limited-release academic work, which they later re-sold on their own web portals ( and

However, despite the US indictment, the hackers remained at large in Iran and mounted subsequent attacks.

These attacks usually took place each fall, right before the new school year. Their 2018 campaign was documented in a Secureworks report, while Proofpoint spotted last year’s campaign.

Group is now hosting attack servers in Iran

But compared to the past attacks, the 2020 campaign is different.

Malwarebytes said this time around, Silent Librarian hosted some of its phishing sites on Iranian servers.

“It may seem odd for an attacker to use infrastructure in their own country, possibly pointing a finger at them. However, here it simply becomes another bulletproof hosting option based on the lack of cooperation between US or European law enforcement and local police in Iran,” the US security firm said.

Below is a list of universities the group targeted, along with the phishing sites they used, in case students and university staff may want to review any past emails.

Phishing site Legitimate site Target The University of Adelaide Library The University of Adelaide Library Glasgow Caledonian University Stony Brook University Stony Brook University Universiteit Utrecht Universiteit Utrecht Victoria University University of Bristol University of Toronto University of Cambridge Karolinska Medical Institutet University of York University of Kent Göteborg universitet Western University Canada King’s College London Queen Mary University of London Melbourne Victoria Australia Nanyang Technological University University of Lincoln TH Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences University of North Texas McGill University University of Cambridge
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