Jordan science facility to promote research ties between Mideast countries

The vast white building is home to a synchrotron, a particle accelerator that acts as a powerful microscope. (Photo courtesy: sesame.org.jo)
Updated 16 May 2017
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Jordan science facility to promote research ties between Mideast countries

DUBAI: An advanced research center to be shared by scientists from countries with politically tense relations is set to open in Jordan today.
The facility is called Sesame — Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East – and will be used by researchers from across the region, including Iranians, Israelis and Palestinians.
The facility’s name is a play on the famous phrase “Open Sesame” and implies the beginning of a new era of collaborative scientific research, the BBC reported Tuesday.
The vast white building is home to a synchrotron, a particle accelerator that acts as a powerful microscope by generating intense beams of light
There are about 60 synchrotrons in the world but this will be the first in the Middle East.
Located 35 kilometers north of the capital Amman, the facility is geared toward establishing advanced science in the region, according to Egyptian Dr. Gihan Kamel.
“We are not building a paradise, it’s not an ideal place… But we are creating something, we are giving hope for other people for other generations,” she told the BBC.
The opening ceremony is being attended by Jordanian, Cypriot, Egyptian, Iranian, Pakistani, Palestinian and Turkish delegations and by the heads of UNESCO, CERN and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
However, an Israeli Cabinet minister called off the long-planned visit to attend the ceremony following a spat between the countries over a deadly shooting in Jerusalem.
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said he was skipping the because of Jordan’s reaction to the killing of a Jordanian who stabbed an Israeli police officer.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.