Russian strikes kill 45 Syrian rebels: monitor

Smoke rises in the background as Syrian Democratic Forces fighters stand near rubble of a destroyed building, north of Raqqa, Syria, November 7, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Russian strikes kill 45 Syrian rebels: monitor

BEIRUT: Russian air strikes have killed 45 members of a rebel group in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said Sunday.
It was unclear why the strikes, which took place Saturday, targeted members of the Faylaq Al-Sham rebel group, which has taken part in peace talks supervised by Moscow in the Kazakh capital Astana.
The strikes hit the group in the province of Idlib, which is part of a so-called “de-confliction” zone agreed in a deal between Syrian regime allies Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey.
The Observatory initially reported a lower toll, but said the figure had risen as bodies were recovered after the strike on one of the rebel group’s headquarters on the outskirts of the village of Tal Mardikh.
Faylaq Al-Sham is an Islamist rebel group considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
It has fought against the former Al-Qaeda affiliate that now effectively controls nearly all of Idlib after chasing its former rebel allies from their positions in fighting this summer.
A spokesman for Faylaq Al-Sham confirmed the group’s headquarters had been targeted, despite their participation in the last round of talks in Astana.
“Our participation in Astana does not in any way mean that Russia is a friendly or neutral country,” Idriss Al-Raed told AFP.
“The Russian bombing is not surprising, since its policy since its intervention in Syria is based on criminality and killing,” he added.
Russia began an intervention in Syria in support of ally President Bashar Assad in 2015, and has helped the regime win back large parts of the country.
Moscow also helped broker a deal for four truce zones, one of which includes Idlib province, in an agreement with Iran and Turkey inked in May.
The deal excludes jihadists, but is intended to otherwise halt fighting in the agreed areas.
The three other zones are around the capital Damascus, in southern Syria and in the center of the country.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.


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.