Iran’s cyber mischief

Iranian hackers were found engaging in “spear-phishing” e-mail campaigns to steal information from computers and infect others.
Sunday 23/09/2018
A director of a cybersecurity firm stands in front of a map of Iran as he speaks about the techniques of Iranian hacking. (AP)
A director of a cybersecurity firm stands in front of a map of Iran as he speaks about the techniques of Iranian hacking. (AP)

In an attempt to intimidate their neighbours and the West ahead of US sanctions that will go into full effect in November, Iranian hackers are orchestrating a campaign of mischief with the suspected support of their government.

FireEye, an international firm specialising in cybersecurity, has revealed another example of Iranian bellicosity. The firm said Iranian hackers are engaging in “spear-phishing” e-mail campaigns to steal information from computers and infect others. The group is referred to as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.”

Under the guise of offering jobs in the oil and gas sector, the hackers target companies and public institutions in the Middle East, the United States and Japan. The targets are active in disparate sectors such as energy, business, insurance, utilities and even education.

FireEye said the hackers use Farsi and are active during the Iranian workweek, leading investigators to believe the Iranian government may be backing the malicious operation.

“Since we started tracking APT33 in 2013, their sophistication has definitely improved,” Alister Shepherd, director of a FireEye subsidiary, told the Associated Press. The Iranian hackers, he said, manage “to meet their objectives, which is to compromise institutions in both the government and private sector and steal data.”

Iranian hackers’ fingerprints are believed to have been all over previous hacking campaigns, including ones that targeted Saudi oil installations in 2012 and 2016.

Clearly, thwarting Iranian activities will require greater preparedness in the region as well as a long-term effort to close the skills gap that hinders Arab countries’ ability to deal with this particular form of Iranian aggression.

6