Iran’s dissident surveillance operation exposed

Iran’s dissident surveillance operation exposed
Using malware disguised as Android applications, Iranian hackers successfully overcame encryptions set up by messaging apps and infiltrated targets’ supposedly secure mobile phones and computers. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 09 February 2021

Iran’s dissident surveillance operation exposed

Iran’s dissident surveillance operation exposed
  • The IRGC focuses on foreign dissidents, while the ministry focuses on Iranians at home

LONDON: Iran is running two surveillance operations in cyberspace, using various methods to spy on more than 1,000 dissidents, according to a leading cybersecurity company.

People in Iran, the UK, the US and 10 other countries have been tracked by Iranian hackers, Check Point said.

It added that two groups are involved in disseminating spyware among dissidents that is then used to monitor them and to steal call recordings and other media.

One of the groups, Domestic Kitten, uses various methods to trick people into downloading malicious software to their phones.

For example, they mimic apps for Tehran-based restaurants, offer fake mobile-security apps or provide local news via a compromised app. In one case, they supplied an infected wallpaper app that also contained pro-Daesh imagery.

Check Point said Tehran has achieved at least 600 successful infections using these methods.

The other group involved in the hacking scandal, Infy, is known to have been operating as early as 2007, and has targeted peoples’ computers by sending emails with attractive content and an attachment containing spyware.

The Infy campaign, according to Check Point, is one of Iran’s most sophisticated campaigns yet.

“It is clear that the Iranian government is investing significant resources into cyber operations,” said Check Point cyber-research head Yaniv Balmas.

“The operators of these Iranian cyber-espionage campaigns seem to be completely unaffected by any counter-activities done by others, even though both campaigns had been revealed and even stopped in the past. They have simply restarted.”

Amin Sabeti, executive director at the Washington-based Digital Impact Lab, told Arab News that once Iranian operatives break into dissidents’ devices, their priority is finding out who these people are speaking to in Iran.

“They want to find the network of people, especially those outside the country, and figure out what they’re talking about and who they’re talking to — then they arrest them,” he said.

Sabeti added, however, that Iran is not a top-tier cyber threat. “It can’t compete with Russia or China,” he said.

What Tehran’s cyber agencies excel at is what Sabeti called the “social engineering” side of hacking.

“In terms of the technology they aren’t that sophisticated, but in implementation they’re excellent,” he said.

“They understand their target perfectly — they study them and figure out what they want, and compromise them from there.”

The Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Sabeti said, each run their own distinct cyber entities with different targets. The IRGC focuses on foreign dissidents, while the ministry focuses on Iranians at home.

The work of various security operations often overlaps, and the end result, he said, is an interconnected system of spying that “looks like it was taken from the Soviet Union’s playbook.”

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

Enter


keywords

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says
Updated 48 sec ago

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says
  • Mohamed Abdel-Aty said that climate change negatively impacts water resources, with resulting threats to sustainable development and the human right to water
  • The minister said that more than 1,500 structures had been implemented to guard against the dangers of torrential rain and to protect individuals and facilities
Mohamed Abdel-Aty, Egypt’s minister of water resources and irrigation, ‘has said that his country is one of those most affected by climate change.

This is due to rising sea levels and the impact of climate change on the sources of the Nile River, and extreme weather phenomena such as heatwaves, cold waves and torrential rains impacting water resources, agriculture and the food, energy and health sectors, as well as coastal regions and northern lakes.

This is in addition to the risks affecting 12-15 percent of the most fertile lands of the delta as a result of the expected rise in sea level, and the intrusion of saline water, which affects the quality of groundwater.

Abdel-Aty said that climate change negatively impacts water resources, with resulting threats to sustainable development and the human right to water.

He was speaking during a meeting with Ayat Soliman, regional director of the Sustainable Development Department for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank Group, and her accompanying delegation. The meeting was to review a climate and development report on Egypt, which is being prepared by experts from the World Bank in cooperation with the Ministry of International Cooperation.

The minister said that more than 1,500 structures had been implemented to guard against the dangers of torrential rain and to protect individuals, facilities and key facilities from its destructive effects, in addition to harvesting rainwater for the use of Bedouin communities in the surrounding areas.

During the meeting, Abdel-Aty reviewed the efforts of the ministry in adapting to climate change through the implementation of several projects to guard against torrential rains, to protect Egyptian beaches, and expand the reuse of agricultural drainage water as one of the non-traditional water resources to meet increasing demand.

Egypt is implementing a number of major projects aimed at protecting its coast (covering about 3,000 km), securing individuals, facilities, public and private properties, roads and investments in coastal areas, working to stop the decline of the beach line and recovering beaches that have been lost due to erosion, and protecting agricultural lands and villages.

The country is also working on contributing to the development of fisheries in the northern lakes. The “Promoting Adaptation to Climate Changes in the North Coast and the Nile Delta” project has been launched with the aim of establishing protection systems, over a distance of 69 km, in five locations on the coast of the Nile River Delta, and the establishment of early warning stations at different depths within the Mediterranean to obtain data related to storm waves and sudden natural phenomena.

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning
Updated 18 September 2021

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning
  • Bouteflika, who had been ailing since a stroke in 2013, died Friday at 84
  • Bouteflika's 20-year-long rule, riddled with corruption, ended in disgrace as he was pushed from power amid huge street protests

ALGIERS: Algeria’s leader declared a three-day period of mourning starting Saturday for former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose 20-year-long rule, riddled with corruption, ended in disgrace as he was pushed from power amid huge street protests when he decided to seek a new term.
Bouteflika, who had been ailing since a stroke in 2013, died Friday at 84. His public appearances had been rare in the final years of his presidency, and he had not been seen since President Abdelmadjid Tebboune took office in late 2019.
Flags are to fly at half-staff during the mourning period, the president’s office said. The honors reflect Bouteflika’s role in Algeria’s brutal seven-year war for independence from France that ended in 1962. Those who fought are considered martyrs today.
The former president’s lawyer, Salim Salim Hadjouti, said Bouteflika was being laid to rest in an official ceremony at El Alia cemetery, in the section where martyrs of the revolution for independence are buried, a special honor.
Since Bouteflika’s death, public television has not shown images of him, a clear sign that authorities prefer not to go overboard with a farewell as the North African nation has turned past the Bouteflika era. Early on in his mandate, Tebboune announced his policy of a “new Algeria.”
Tebboune has led a fight against the corruption, including in the Bouteflika clan as it emerged that a close circle of officials around the president were enriching themselves and allegedly making decisions in the place of the ailing president. Bouteflika’s brother and special counsellor Said was acquitted in January by a military appeals court of allegedly plotting against the army and the state, but faces corruption charges.


Houthis execute 9 civilians over 2018 coalition killing of leader Al-Samad

Houthis execute 9 civilians over 2018 coalition killing of leader Al-Samad
Updated 7 min 8 sec ago

Houthis execute 9 civilians over 2018 coalition killing of leader Al-Samad

Houthis execute 9 civilians over 2018 coalition killing of leader Al-Samad
  • Al-Samad was visiting Hodeidah in April 2018 to incite residents to join the war when the coalition hit his convoy
  • The group were accused of putting SIM cards in the pockets of Al-Samad’s guards

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Saturday publicly executed nine people charged with involvement in the killing of the militia’s leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018.

The Houthi-controlled SABA news agency said on Saturday that “the Public Prosecution implemented the legal retribution verdict against nine people” who allegedly guided the Arab coalition warplanes that killed Al-Samad in the western province of Hodeidah.

The group, including a 17 year old, were accused of putting SIM cards in the pockets of Al-Samad’s guards, helping the coalition to locate the Houthi leader.

Al-Samad, then president of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, was visiting the western province of Hodeidah in April 2018 to incite residents to join the war when the coalition hit his convoy, killing him along with six other people, and inflicting a heavy blow to the Houthi movement.

New images published by Houthi officials show the nine civilians in blue clothes standing before a large gathering of people and soldiers before being shot in the back by machine guns, one by one. Each prisoner collapses on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs.

Among those executed was 17-year-old Abdulaziz Al-Aswad, who was arrested in Hodeidah in 2018 when he was 15.

The Houthis also executed Ali bin Ali Al-Qawzi, a tribal leader and local government official in Hodeidah. He was also abducted in 2018 and later transferred to Sanaa ,where he faced charges of sharing information with the Arab coalition that led to the killing of Al-Samad.

Yemeni lawyers told Arab News that the 10th alleged member of the abducted group, Ali Kazaba, died inside Houthi-controlled prisons as a result of brutal physical torture and medical negligence.

Before the execution, family members of the group sent urgent appeals to the Houthi leader to pardon them. Local and international activists also arranged online campaigns to pressure the rebels into canceling the execution.

“They do not have strong evidence that he is guilty. He is innocent,” one family member said of their relative in an appeal recorded beside the grave of Al-Samad in Sanaa.

Outraged Yemeni lawyers and human rights activists said that the executions were “based on unfounded charges and forced confessions” and that the nine were not granted a fair trial.

Abdel Majeed Sabra, a lawyer who defended three of the executed men, described the execution as “a massacre.”

He said that the relatives demanded the Houthis hand over the bodies for burials in Hodeidah.

“This is premeditated murder that has been legitimized by invalid rulings,” Sabra told Arab News.

Yemenis of different political affiliations have turned to social media to vent their anger over the executions.

Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, said that the nine men were subjected to “mock trials” and that “the Houthis were behaving like a terrorist organization.”

He said on Twitter: “Killing orders by Houthi militia against nine civilians are premeditated murders and a replication of the Iran regime’s model of liquidating political opponents. The event is also similar to executions by terrorist organizations Al-Qaeda and Daesh.”

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties said that the Houthis had carried out “extrajudicial executions against innocent Yemeni civilians.”

It accused the rebel group of seeking to “exterminate their political opponents.

“SAM affirms its opposition to the political death sentences and its condemnation of the brutal behavior of the Houthi group in killing innocent people in front of camera lenses and a large crowd of the public, and the publication of the execution video in the media.”

The human rights organization Rights Radar for Human Rights said that the executions amounted to war crimes: “We strongly condemn the Houthi rebels in Yemen who executed nine civilians based on false charges and unfair trials. It is considered a war crime.”


Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers

Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers
Updated 18 September 2021

Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers

Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers
  • Abu Dhabi had restricted entry into the emirate to those with a negative PCR test
  • The Covid-19 testing requirements to enter will be removed starting Sunday, Sept. 19

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee announced that residents, tourists or citizens traveling from within the UAE are no longer required to present a COVID-19 test result to enter the emirate effective Sunday.

The UAE's capital had restricted entry into the emirate to those with a negative PCR test. 

The comittee said the Covid-19 testing requirements to enter will be removed starting Sunday, Sept. 19. 

The rule applies to residents, citizens and tourists traveling to Abu Dhabi from within the UAE. 

The Abu Dhabi Media Office said the decision follows the announcement of a decreased Covid-19 infection rate in the emirate of 0.2 per cent of total tests and the activation of the green pass system to enter some public places.

“The committee will continue to monitor infection rates & urges all citizens, residents & visitors to continue adhering to precautionary measures to protect public health & safety, maintain successes, & advance the nation’s sustainable recovery,” the media office said on Twitter. 

On Friday, the ministry of health in the UAE announced 521 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases in the country to 731,828. 

It also announced 2 deaths due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 2,071.

An additional 614 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 723,337.


Three Iranian dissidents to be honored by PEN America

Iranians wearing protective masks cross a main road in Tehran during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP file photo)
Iranians wearing protective masks cross a main road in Tehran during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP file photo)
Updated 18 September 2021

Three Iranian dissidents to be honored by PEN America

Iranians wearing protective masks cross a main road in Tehran during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP file photo)
  • The PEN gala is scheduled for Oct. 5 at its longtime venue the American Museum of Natural History, with Awkwafina serving as host

NEW YORK: Three imprisoned Iranian dissidents will be honored next month at Pen America’s annual gala.
The literary and human rights organization announced on Thursday that writer-filmmaker Baktash Abtin, novelist-journalist Keyvan Bajan and author-critic Reza Khandan Mahabadi are this year’s recipients of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.
All three are members of the anti-censorship Iranian Writers Association and are serving a collective 15.5 years on charges including endangering national security and “spreading propaganda.”
“Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi are embodiments of the spirit that animates our work at PEN America. They are writers who are called not only to offer prose and ideas on a page, but to live fearlessly — and sacrifice immensely in service of the liberties that underpin free thought, art, culture, and creativity,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
“By taking up the mantle of leadership within Iran’s literary community, they have served as beacons for countless authors and thinkers whose ability to imagine, push boundaries, and challenge repression under the most dangerous conditions is fed by the knowledge that they do not stand alone.”
The PEN gala is scheduled for Oct. 5 at its longtime venue the American Museum of Natural History, with Awkwafina serving as host.