Egyptian President El-Sisi pardons 712 prisoners

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi speaks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt December 11, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 06 June 2018
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Egyptian President El-Sisi pardons 712 prisoners

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has pardoned 712 prisoners, the state news agency MENA said on Wednesday, and security sources said many of those freed were youth jailed for anti-government protests.
A full list of those pardoned was not immediately available.
Since coming to power in 2014, El-Sisi has presided over a sweeping crackdown on Islamist opponents and liberal activists that rights groups say is the worst period of political repression in Egyptian history.
He has issued pardons several times a year, including on major national holidays, often releasing students and young protesters.
Egypt in 2013 passed a law requiring interior ministry permission for any public gathering of more than 10 people, effectively ending the mass protests that helped unseat two presidents in the span of three years beginning in 2011.
El-Sisi is a former military chief who toppled elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. Critics say public dissent continues to be suppressed as matter of policy under El-Sisi.
El-Sisi denies that there are political prisoners in Egypt.
He was sworn in for a second term as Egyptian president on Saturday amid a crackdown on opponents after a landslide victory in a March election from which all serious opponents had withdrawn.


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.