MuddyWater campaign abusing Atera Agents

18 min

Identifier: TRR240402.


We have been closely monitoring the activities of the Iranian state-sponsored threat actor MuddyWater since the beginning of 2024. Our investigations reveal an active campaign that has been ramping up since October 2023, aligning with the Hamas attack that took place that month1. In this latest campaign, MuddyWater has been heavily relying on a legitimate remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool called Atera Agent.

Over the course of our investigation, several publications234 have detailed various aspects of this attack campaign. Consequently, our report shares new insights and information regarding MuddyWater use of Atera Agents, not previously highlighted in these reports.


MuddyWater, an Iranian state-sponsored threat actor, has been relying on legitimate remote monitoring and management (RMM) software as a first stage payload in its attacks, since at least 20215. Since then, the actor has tested different RMM tools, from ScreenConnect, Syncro, SimpleHelp, RemoteUtilies and most recently, Atera Agent. Atera Agent does not require any infrastructure to be set up by the attackers, providing them with better operational security.

Since late October 2023, we have noticed a significant increase in the use of Atera Agent installation packages linked to MuddyWater, continuing through to April 2024:

Estimated timeline of Atera agent activity
Figure 1 – Estimated timeline of Atera agent activity

Similarly to previously reported misuse cases6, MuddyWater exploited Atera’s free trial offers. The Atera Agent agents seen in this campaign has been registered using a mix of compromised business and private email accounts. We suspect that the threat actor accessed these accounts through a variety of methods, such as password spraying, exploiting reused passwords, utilizing credentials from data breaches, or even purchasing them. Additionally, there is a possibility that private email accounts were specifically registered for the purpose of creating Atera accounts.

Infection chain

The group continues to leverage free file hosting platforms for hosting their RMM installers, employing spearphishing emails to direct recipients to these files.

Observed spreading methodology
Figure 2 – Observed spreading methodology

These emails contained links leading to various file-sharing websites, which either hosted an archive with the Atera Agent installer or provided direct access to the installer itself.

It is important to note that, to our knowledge, the email accounts registered with Atera were distinct from those used to disseminate the spearphishing emails.


The quality of MuddyWater’s spearphishing emails has significantly improved since their earlier emails in October 2023. The threat actor has refined their social engineering tactics, crafting more convincing and tailored lures to deceive their targets. The emails observed in the recent campaign from April 2024 (see Fig. 3) demonstrate a higher level of sophistication compared to those from October 2023 (see Fig. 4), with more persuasive content and professional formatting:

Spearphishing email from April 2024. Atera Agent linked, hosted using "Egnyte" file sharing
Figure 3 – Spearphishing email from April 2024. Atera Agent linked, hosted using “Egnyte” file sharing

Which translates to:


Dear friends and colleagues

The Golan Regional Council has launched a national program to attract local companies, including insurance, avation, medicine, shipping, education, tourism, etc.

The goal of launching this program is to advance and develop the Golan region.
Dear friends and colleagues, please support us regarding the adoption of the Golan regional program.

To download the program, click the link below and wait for the information to be uploaded after receiving the program.

Golan Regional Council program [Link]


Where as the email from October 2023 (Fig. 4) translates to:

Use the signaltours [Link] program to recieve files and get information about flight status.

Spearphishing email from October 2023 linking to a SimpleHelp installer
Figure 4 – Spearphishing email from October 2023 linking to a SimpleHelp installer

Atera RMM

Atera offers users a free 30-day trial of their platform, which allows the generation of Atera ‘Agents’, using any email account. These agents are configured to call back to this account and could be controlled directly via the website:

Atera Web UI
Figure 5 – Atera Web UI

This eliminates the need for the attacker to establish its own C2 infrastructure, making it a more appealing choice compared to previously used RMM solutions like SimpleHelp.

Atera provides comprehensive remote control capabilities directly from the Web UI, including the ability to upload/download files, run an interactive shell (see Fig. 6), and even use generative AI command assistance.

Atera Web PowerShell UI

Figure 6 – Atera Web PowerShell UI

While email verification is not required prior to generating agents, a ‘registration successful’ email is sent to the address used. Although the owner of the email address could naturally reset the password and access the Atera account, in the cases we studied, the attacker had access to the email account used to register with Atera.

We observed Atera Agent binaries configured using emails belonging to individuals whose other email account passwords had been leaked. We believe that MuddyWater exploited password reuse to gain access to additional email accounts, which were then used to register Atera Agents. In some cases, the email accounts used appeared to have been obtained through the sale of leaked OWA credentials. In other instances, the credentials of another email account belonging to the same person had been compromised, allowing the threat actor to access additional accounts through password reuse.

Malicious Atera Agents installation packages

The following Atera Agent installation packages are highly suspected to be registered and operated by MuddyWater, judging from their distribution method, the email account used to register them and in some cases, the targets that received said emails.

Leaked email credentials

Filename N/A
Hash (SHA256) 5d7eb6c36d261adeef1a59bde9eb965f5d8d7f56a2e607da913e782167ba6cb6
Est. time active 2023-11-03

This early Atera Agent sample caught our attention due to its configuration using what appears to be a student’s email address from an associate degree student at a university in Turkey. We found this exact email address in a partial sample of an OWA (Outlook Web Access) credentials leak that was published a month before the agent’s estimated active time. The leak sample suggests that the full set of compromised credentials may have been put up for sale.

Hash (SHA256) 14c270cf53a50867e42120250abca863675d37abf39d60689e58288a9e870144
Est. time active 2024-01-31 - 2024-02-04
Filename Polaristek.msi
Hash (SHA256) 638c7a4f833dc95dbab5f0a81ef03b7d83704e30b5cdc630702475cc9fff86a2
Est. time active 2024-02-11 - 2024-02-13

These two Atera Agents were configured using an email address belonging to a 2019 graduate of the Royal College of Arts in London. The individual’s personal email address was exposed in a data breach that occurred in the same year they graduated, suggesting that the attacker likely exploited a case of credential stuffing.

However, the distribution of these Atera Agents was carried out using an email address belonging to the targeted organization. The attacker crafted a spearphishing email with a lure tailored specifically to the organization:

Spearphishing email spreading via Onehub

Figure 7 – Spearphishing email spreading via Onehub

Distribution using Zendesk Chat

A more recent sample, uploaded on 1st of April 2024 demonstrates an interesting new distribution method, using Zendesk:

Filename N/A
Hash (SHA256) ec553e14b84ccca9b84e96a9ed19188a1ba5f4bf1ca278ab88f928f0b00b9bd0
Est. time active 2024-03-31 - 2024-04-01

Like other Atera Agent installers discribed in this report, this installer was packed in a ZIP archive. However, this parent archive was hosted on Zendesk Chat’s (formerly Zopim Chat) file sharing infrastructure: https://v2uploads.zopim[.]io/2/u/K/2uKM8Mhn4WHvqm9pjHrjaogyOYub9ouO/

We suspect that the attacker uploaded the malicious archive during a chat session, likely posing as a visitor/customer, but possibly as an agent/support provider.

According to Zendesk’s documentation, “Attached files are uploaded as links in a chat session. Regardless of your authentication settings, those links can be accessed by anyone with the URL.7“. This allowed the attacker to obtain a direct, non-expiring link to the archive, which they could then distribute via email.

Further investigation revealed that the email address used to register the Atera Agent was part of multiple data breaches dating back to 2016, with the most recent breach potentially occurring just a month before the registration.

Hunting for additional Atera Agents distributed via Zendesk, we found another suspicious agent configured with a Gmail account. This particular agent dates back to October 2023:

Filename N/A
Hash (SHA256) 9b49d6640f5f0f1d68f649252a96052f1d2e0822feadd7ebe3ab6a3cadd75985
Est. time active 2023-10-26

In this case, the Atera Agent installer was not packed in a ZIP archive but instead directly uploaded to Zendesk Chat.

Interestingly, the hosting URL contains the same identifier as the previously discovered agent, suggesting that both malware samples may have been uploaded within the same chat instance, albeit at different times.

It’s important to note that while Zendesk typically scans files uploaded to tickets for malware, attachments to tickets originating from standalone Chat subscriptions are not scanned8. This limitation in Zendesk’s malware scanning process appears to have been exploited by the threat actor to distribute the malicious Atera Agent installer.

Targeting Israel

Filename IronSword.msi
Hash (SHA256) 2722e289767ae391e3c3773b8640a8b9f6eb24c6a9d6e541f29c8765f7a8944b
Est. time active 2024-03-05 - 2024-03-08
Filename IronSword.msi
Hash (SHA256) ffbe988fd797cbb9a1eedb705cf00ebc8277cdbd9a21b6efb40a8bc22c7a43f0
Est. time active 2024-03-05 - 2024-03-08

These Atera Agents are configured with an email address belonging to an individual working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay. Notably, the same email was found in a leaked list of Outlook Web Access (OWA) credentials, also dating back at least a month earlier.

The agent, named after the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) operation “Swords of Iron”, was distributed via filetransfer[.]io, likely linked in a spearphishing email sent by the threat actor.

Filename setup_aleh_aleh.msi
Hash (SHA256) 165a80f6856487b3b4f41225ac60eed99c3d603f5a35febab8235757a273d1fd
Est. time active 2024-02-26 - 2024-02-28

The email used to register this Atera Agent belongs to a graduate of “Kinneret Academic College”. MuddyWater have been targeting this academic institution following a compromise9 to “Rashim Software”, an administration platform that Kinneret was using.

Filename תוכנת תיירות.msi‬
Hash (SHA256) ff2ae62ba88e7068fa142bbe67d7b9398e8ae737a43cf36ace1fcf809776c909
Est. time active 2024-03-12 - 2024-03-14
Filename Leonardo Hotels-tourism software.msi
Hash (SHA256) c2f95299d8aa912e1b753f3f0780a00ea6e8b5dab0245d77fcf3b6499677c328
Est. time active 2024-03-12 - 2024-03-14

These Atera Agents were configured with the same email address belonging to an individual working in an IT company. The filenames of the agents indicate that they were targeting an Israeli Tourism company (תוכנת תיירות.msi translates to ‘Tourism Program’ in Hebrew).

Both Atera Agents were hosted using “Egnyte” cloud file sharing platform. The attacker set up a custom Egnyte subdomain using the name of the aforementioned “Kinneret” University kinneretacil.egnyte[.]com, by a user named ori ben-dor.

Custom Egnyte folder

Figure 8 – Custom Egnyte folder

The same username was used to upload Atera Agent configured with a different email (belonging to an employment/immigration agency in Israel) to onehub[.]com:

Filename מילגה.msi
Hash (SHA256) c6128f222f844e699760e32695d405bd5931635ec38ae50eddc17a0976ccefb4
Est. time active 2024-03-10

Finally, the most recent Atera Agent was distributed using a very well made social engineering spearphising email (see Fig. 1):

Filename digitalform.msi
Hash (SHA256) 09e09503962a2a8022859e72b86ad8c69dcbf79839b71897c0bf8a4c4b9f4dd6
Est. time active 2024-04-03 - 2024-04-08

This Atera Agent was configured with an email address belonging to an employee of an Airline in Algeria.

We found a tie to between this agent and another Atera Agent, spread to some of the same targets:

Filename תכנית מועצת מחוז גולן.msi
Hash (SHA256) fb58c54a6d0ed24e85b213f0c487f8df05e421d7b07bd2bece3a925a855be93a
Est. time active 2024-04-08

The malware was spread via a spearphishing email (Fig. 3) sent from an email account unrelated to the one used to register it with Atera. The spearphishing email contained a link to a custom Egnyte subdomain matching the lure’s contents. This Egnyte asset hosts a ZIP archive containing the Atera Agent installation package.

Our investigation suggests that the attacker compromised an email account at the victim organization, possibly by leveraging credentials from another leaked email account that we discovered within that org. Using the compromised account, the attacker then sent spearphishing emails to other organizations, targeting contacts in other organizations from the compromised email’s address book.


Basing on the accounts used to register the Atera Agents, as well as emails we analyzed, we believe that MuddyWater targeted the following sectors between October 2023 and April 2024:

Airlines, IT Companies, Telecommunication, Pharmaceutical, Automotive manufacturing, Logistics, Travel and Tourism, Employment/Immigration agency, as well as small businesses across Israel, India, Alegria, Turkey, Italy and Egypt (see Fig. 9).

Map of suspected targets

Fig. 9 – Map of suspected targets


MuddyWater places a high priority on gaining access to business email accounts as part of their ongoing attack campaigns. These compromised accounts serve as valuable resource, enabling the group to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of their spear-phishing efforts, establish persistence within targeted organizations, and evade detection by blending in with legitimate network traffic. Adding to that the use of RMM software (previously self-hosted, now in-cloud), as well as using various file hosting providers, makes this sort of activity challenging to detect and track.

Moreover, as highlighted in the Deep Instinct report on DarkBeatC23, there are indications of collaboration and hand-off of compromised targets between Iranian threat actors to conduct supply-chain attacks. This suggests that MuddyWater may not only actively compromise business email accounts themselves but also receive access to previously breached accounts from other affiliate groups. Similarly, the OP INNOVATE blog post on Lord Nemesis9 demonstrates how the group exploited privileged credentials obtained from the Rashim Software breach to infiltrate the networks of Rashim’s clients in the Israeli academic sector. This further underscores the value of compromised business email accounts as a stepping stone for launching additional attacks.

Unfortunately, we do not hold any information about the specific stages and actions the actor takes once it has successfully deployed the Atera Agent on a targeted system. We suspect that the group does not rely on the deployed RMM software for a long term, but rather uses it as a first stage in their attack, likely deploying a PowerShell implant as the next stage, as seen in previous attacks10.

We encourage affected organizations and fellow researchers to collaborate with us in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of MuddyWater attack campaigns. Together we can offer the community better chances to detect, respond to and hunt for new malicious activity.


Indicators of compromise (IOCs)

Associated IOCs are also available on our GitHub repository.

Hashes (SHA-256)

9b49d6640f5f0f1d68f649252a96052f1d2e0822feadd7ebe3ab6a3cadd75985|Atera Agent
5d7eb6c36d261adeef1a59bde9eb965f5d8d7f56a2e607da913e782167ba6cb6|Atera Agent
14c270cf53a50867e42120250abca863675d37abf39d60689e58288a9e870144|Atera Agent,
638c7a4f833dc95dbab5f0a81ef03b7d83704e30b5cdc630702475cc9fff86a2|Atera Agent, Polaristek.msi
dd2675e2f6835f8a8a0e65e9dbc763ca9229b55af7d212da38b949051ae296a5|Atera Agent,ünikasyonWebsemineri.msi /
165a80f6856487b3b4f41225ac60eed99c3d603f5a35febab8235757a273d1fd|Atera Agent, setup_aleh_aleh.msi
d22fd0cdd6ace24e117d7330e9996a2809c2c2cb280b12f9ea43c484d2bfcfd4|Atera Agent, setup_aleh_aleh (1).msi
f9c1a117de8519060a3bf189e72277e895345b8fece73fc0d750946c7f288367|Atera Agent, BLUMENTAL.WEBINAR.msi
2722e289767ae391e3c3773b8640a8b9f6eb24c6a9d6e541f29c8765f7a8944b|Atera Agent, IronSword.msi
ffbe988fd797cbb9a1eedb705cf00ebc8277cdbd9a21b6efb40a8bc22c7a43f0|Atera Agent
2ae6c5c2b71361f71ded4ad90bbf6ef0b0f4778caf54078c928e2017302fbe69|Atera Agent
c6128f222f844e699760e32695d405bd5931635ec38ae50eddc17a0976ccefb4|Atera Agent, מילגה.msi
ff2ae62ba88e7068fa142bbe67d7b9398e8ae737a43cf36ace1fcf809776c909|Atera Agent, תוכנת תיירות.msi
c2f95299d8aa912e1b753f3f0780a00ea6e8b5dab0245d77fcf3b6499677c328|Atera Agent, Leonardo Hotels-tourism software.msi
e89f48a7351c01cbf2f8e31c65a67f76a5ead689bb11e9d4918090a165d4425f|Atera Agent, Salary.msi
326dd85d76d33f3f04cbe7eef6d10ea73f800c84bfc3ed6f3963403c981bbb6e|Atera Agent, virtual-library.msi
ec553e14b84ccca9b84e96a9ed19188a1ba5f4bf1ca278ab88f928f0b00b9bd0|Atera Agent
09e09503962a2a8022859e72b86ad8c69dcbf79839b71897c0bf8a4c4b9f4dd6|Atera Agent, digitalform.msi
fb58c54a6d0ed24e85b213f0c487f8df05e421d7b07bd2bece3a925a855be93a|Atera Agent, תכנית מועצת מחוז גולן.msi
4b41b605ffc0e31bd9d460d5a296ac6e8cfd56a215dc131e90ec2654f0ffe31b|Malicious Zip archive,ü
85103955e35a1355ce68a92eaedd8f9376de1927d95bf12657b348dea6a8077b|Malicious Zip archive,
bab601635aafeae5fbfe1c1f7204de17b189b345efd91c46001f6d83efbb3c5a|Malicious Zip archive,
900d08037d303d9b3d4a855e1a97d1f9283c28fe279e67eefe9997f856eeb439|Malicious Zip archive
cc8be1d525853403f6cfabcf0fc3bd0ca398ece559388102a7fc55e9f3aa9b33|Malicious Zip archive
7daab239271e088f04cae95627cc0066f48a1b178a1ff60b1140aa729126e928|Malicious Zip archive, Leonardo Hotels-tourism
cc4cc20b558096855c5d492f7a79b160a809355798be2b824525c98964450492|Malicious Zip archive,
31591fcf677a2da2834d2cc99a00ab500918b53900318f6b19ea708eba2b38ab|Malicious Zip archive, תכנית מועצת מחוז גולן.zip
f17f6866f4748e6e762752062acdf983d3b083371db83503686b91512b9bcae3|Malicious Zip archive,
7e6a5e32596b99f45ea9099a14507a82c10a460c56585499d7cd640f2625567f|Malicious Zip archive,
fb02e97d52a00fca1580ca71ed152dd28dd5ae28ab0a9c8e7b32cebd7f1998a1|Malicious Zip archive, מילגה.zip


https://v2uploads.zopim[.]io/2/u/K/2uKM8Mhn4WHvqm9pjHrjaogyOYub9ouO/|Atera Agent Distribution
https://v2uploads.zopim[.]io/2/u/K/2uKM8Mhn4WHvqm9pjHrjaogyOYub9ouO/064eab6bff1b47eb92cbf1ed35f57098e5e686b2.msi|Atera Agent Distribution
https://ln5.sync[.]com/dl/cc84c9a40/grefpuhc-p9kmxpkx-kw6waakz-e8xp8atm|Atera Agent Distribution
https://filetransfer[.]io/data-package/tuMe19fV/download|Atera Agent Distribution
https://freeupload[.]store/rALE7/wIHItUcE08.msi/download|Atera Agent Distribution
https://ws.onehub[.]com/files/x68hqy91|Atera Agent Distribution
https://megolan.egnyte[.]com/|Atera Agent Distribution
https://kinneretacil.egnyte[.]com/|Atera Agent Distribution
https://rimonnet.egnyte[.]com/|Atera Agent Distribution
https://ws.onehub[.]com/files/x68hqy91|Atera Agent Distribution

Yara rules

rule MuddyWater_AteraAgent_Operators
    description = "Detect Atera Agent abused by MuddyWater"
    references = "TRR240402"
    hash = "9b49d6640f5f0f1d68f649252a96052f1d2e0822feadd7ebe3ab6a3cadd75985"
    date = "2024-04-17"
    author = "HarfangLab"
    context = "file"
    $s1 = "COMPANYID001Q3000009snPyIAIACCOUNTID"
    $s2 = "COMPANYID001Q3000006FpmoIACACCOUNTID" 
    $s3 = "COMPANYID001Q3000008IyacIACACCOUNTID"
    $s4 = "COMPANYID001Q3000009QoSEIA0ACCOUNTID"
    $s5 = "COMPANYID001Q30000023c7iIAAACCOUNTID"
    $s6 = "COMPANYID001Q3000008qXbDIAUACCOUNTID"
    $s7 = "COMPANYID001Q3000008cfLjIAIACCOUNTID"
    $s8 = "COMPANYID001Q3000007hJubIAEACCOUNTID" 
    $s9 = "COMPANYID001Q3000008ryO3IAIACCOUNTID"
    $s10 = "COMPANYID001Q300000A5nnAIARACCOUNTID"
    $s11 = "COMPANYID001Q3000008JfioIACACCOUNTID"
    $s12 = "COMPANYID001Q300000BeUp3IAFACCOUNTID" 
    $s13 = "COMPANYID001Q3000005gMamIAEACCOUNTID"
    $s15 = "mrrobertcornish@gmail.comINTEGRATORLOGINCOMPANYID"

    $cert1 = { 0A 28 49 99 78 E5 89 8D F4 0A 23 8E B8 A5 52 E8 } // Atera Network certificate 2024-02-15 - 2025-03-18
    $cert2 = { 06 7F 60 47 95 66 24 A7 15 99 61 74 3D 81 94 93 } // Atera Network certificate 2022-02-17 - 2024-03-16

    filesize > 1MB and filesize < 4MB
    and (uint16be(0) == 0xD0CF)
    and any of ($s*)
    and any of ($cert*)

Atera Agent hunting template

rule Custom_AteraAgent_Operator
    description = "Detect Atera Agent configured to certain email addresses, or email domains"
    references = "TRR240402"
    date = "2024-04-17"
    author = "HarfangLab"
    context = "file"
    $email = "email@domain.tld" // Change email address
    $sc1 = { 0A 28 49 99 78 E5 89 8D F4 0A 23 8E B8 A5 52 E8 } // Atera Network certificate 2024-02-15 - 2025-03-18
    $sc2 = { 06 7F 60 47 95 66 24 A7 15 99 61 74 3D 81 94 93 } // Atera Network certificate 2022-02-17 - 2024-03-16
    filesize > 1MB and filesize < 4MB
    and (uint16be(0) == 0xD0CF)
    and @s1 < @email 
    and @email < @s2[3]
    and any of ($sc*)

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