Iran Criticizes US Sanctions Over Hacking Scheme

Marsha Scott
March 25, 2018

This company engaged in cyberespionage on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, one of Iran's military intelligence agencies, as well as on behalf of other Iranian government clients, such as universities and research organizations that would benefit from the stolen data.

In a corresponding announcement, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Mabna Institute, the nine accused individuals, and one additional individual charged in a separate case in 2017 for allegedly stealing data from U.S. entertainment company HBO.

Since 2013, the Mabna Institute carried out cyber intrusions into the computer systems of 144 American universities, the Treasury Department said, and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries.

In addition to the designations related to the activities of the Mabna Institute, OFAC also designated Behzad Mesri, 29, known as "Sokoote Vahshat" (which means "Silent Fear" in Persian), for "engaging in significant malicious cyber-enabled misappropriation of economic resources, personal identifiers, and financial information for private financial gain for activities targeting a USA media company".

The hackers, said the Justice Department, targeted hundreds of universities along with private companies and government agencies. "The defendants stole research that cost the universities approximately $3.4bn to procure and maintain".

They were announced a day after U.S. president Donald Trump named John Bolton, a former USA ambassador to the United Nations who is deeply sceptical of the 2015 worldwide nuclear accord with Iran, as his new national security adviser. But the grand jury indictment, filed in a federal court in New York City, is part of the government's "name and shame" strategy to publicly identify foreign hackers, block them from traveling without risk of arrest and put their countries on notice.

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Last week, the administration accused the Russian government of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the US power grid.

US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other regional allies have been expressing concern over Iran's growing influence in several countries, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen.

It described the conspiracy as one of the largest state-sponsored hacking sprees prosecuted.

"And, thanks to the Treasury Department, the defendants will find it hard to engage in business or financial transactions outside of Iran".

Once the victims clicked on the link, they were taken to a fake page which appeared to be the homepage of their own university.

They are all citizens and residents of Iran and, because the United States has no extradition agreement, are unlikely to ever stand trial. While the men named in the indictment are unlikely to enter a US courtroom or prison (because they probably won't travel to countries that have extradition treaties with the U.S.), the Justice Department hopes that the indictments will deter future hacking schemes. In that capacity, DOJ attorneys claim, "The Mabna Institute contracted with Iranian governmental and private entities to conduct hacking activities on their behalf".

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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