Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey meet UN envoy on Syria

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Russia's special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, and U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend a meeting during consultations on Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 11, 2018. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool/Reuters)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey meet UN envoy on Syria

  • De Mistura met informally with members of the three delegations on Monday.
  • The talks are set to focus on creating a constitutional committee under Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government

GENEVA: The UN envoy for Syria hosted key diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to discuss work toward rewriting the country’s constitution, amid concerns about a possibly devastating military offensive on rebel-held Idlib province.
The talks led by Staffan de Mistura started and ended with little or no comment to reporters at the UN offices in Geneva, and offered a sideshow to the concerns about a looming battle for the northern province — the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria after 7½ years of war and now home to some 3 million civilians.
De Mistura’s spokesman, Michael Contet, said in an email that any debriefing by the envoy about the meeting will be “reserved” for comments that he plans to make to UN Security Council next Tuesday.
On Monday, the head of the UN humanitarian agency, Mark Lowcock, warned that Idlib could see “the worst humanitarian catastrophe, with the biggest loss of life of the 21st century.”
Iran and Russia have backed a military campaign on Idlib involving Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, despite Turkey’s pleas for a cease-fire.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, a special envoy for Iran’s foreign minister, said a “good result” could emerge. Asked whether Iran shared the concerns about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, Jaberi Ansari replied: “We are worried too. We are trying to avoid this.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, declined to answer a question on his way into the talks about whether Russia would stop its airstrikes.
De Mistura met informally with members of the three delegations on Monday.
The talks are set to focus on creating a constitutional committee under Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government. Russia, Turkey and Iran have been working together as “guarantors” for a series of talks around ending Syria’s war. Turkey has taken in 3.5 million refugees from its neighbor.
On Monday, airstrikes on Idlib and Hama provinces forced some people to flee their homes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


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.