United States sanctions Iranians over hacking

Nine Iranian nationals accused of conducting cyber campaign on behalf of the Revolutionary Guard

On Friday, President Donald Trump administration imposed sanctions against 10 Iranian nationals and an IT firm over allegations of launching what it described as "state-sponsored hacking campaigns" against several U.S. and foreign universities as well as dozens of USA companies and government agencies.

Victims of the scheme included approximately 144 universities in the United States, 176 foreign universities in 21 countries, five federal and state government agencies in the United States, 36 private companies in the United States, 11 foreign private companies, and two global non-governmental organizations.

In a statement, the FBI Director Christopher Wray said, "Today, not only are we publicly identifying the foreign hackers who committed these malicious cyber intrusions, but we are also sending a powerful message to their backers, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran: your acts do not go unnoticed".

The Palestinian Authority demanded on Thursday that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman be added to a "global terror list,". "The second important point is that our work on this case is critically important because it will disrupt the criminal operations of the Mabna Institute and deter similar crimes by others".

There was no immediate response to the charges and sanctions in Iran's state-run media.

The hacking ring was described as a "massive and brazen cyber-assault" and "one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns ever prosecuted" by the USA according to Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of NY. The hackers sent phishing emails to about 100,000 professors, about half of whom were in the United States, and whose specialties varied across the science and engineering fields, the indictment says.

In addition to universities, the Mabna hackers attacked the state governments of Hawaii and IN, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Labor.

"I expect the Iranian government to use a plausible deniability defense and claim that these rogue hacking groups aren't affiliated with Tehran", said Sam Curry, CSO of security firm Cybereason, via email. The United Nations, the U.N. Children's Fund, and the states of Hawaii and IN were also among entities targeted.


The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued sanctions against the Iranians on Friday.

Friday's charges marks the fourth time in recent months that the Trump administration has blamed a foreign government for hacking.

Last week, the Trump administration formally accused Russian government hackers of a massive, sophisticated, and multipronged attempt to infiltrate the United States power grid. USA imposed unilateral economic sanctions on Iran and lobbied at United Nations for similar measures against Tehran.

With a motive of stealing expensive research, these nine accused tried to hack into 320 universities in the US. "They're stealing it, and they're taking credit for it, and they're selling it to others".

The stolen documents amounted to more than 15 billion pages of data, he said, comprising "the innovations and intellectual property of some of our country's greatest minds".

The spear-phishing attacks were tailored to specific university professors being targeted for their areas of research. Login credentials belonging to university professors were also stolen and used to access online library systems, the Treasury said. Once inside, the hackers would steal entire email mailboxes.

The Treasury Department also placed sanctions on another Iranian, Behzad Mesri.

The Obama administration in 2016 indicted seven Iranians for distributed-denial-of-service attacks on dozens of United States banks and for trying to shut down a NY dam.

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