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)
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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

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Suspected Iranian nuclear production plant hit by drones, Tehran claims ‘sabotage attack’

Iran's southern Bushehr nuclear power plant has been temporarily shut down over a
Iran's southern Bushehr nuclear power plant has been temporarily shut down over a "technical fault" and will be reconnected to the grid and the issue will be resolved "in a few days", the country's atomic energy body said. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 52 sec ago

Suspected Iranian nuclear production plant hit by drones, Tehran claims ‘sabotage attack’

Iran's southern Bushehr nuclear power plant has been temporarily shut down over a "technical fault" and will be reconnected to the grid and the issue will be resolved "in a few days", the country's atomic energy body said. (AFP/File Photo)
  • There was no immediate comment or attribution of blame from either Israel or Iran

LONDON: A drone attack on a building in Iran, thought to be a nuclear facility, has caused considerable damage, it was claimed Thursday, despite Tehran stating on Wednesday it had foiled the “sabotage” attempt on the building.

At least one small rotor-powered drone hit a factory owned by the Iran Centrifuge Technology Co. in Karaj, according to a US intelligence tip off published by the New York Times.

The factory, just outside Tehran, is believed to produce aluminium blades for use in Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, UK paper The Times reported.

Israeli media also said the building had been hit in an attack, with some reports saying it had involved “several” drones.

There was no immediate comment or attribution of blame from either Israel or Iran.

The incident “left no casualties or damages and was unable to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program,” Iranian state television said, before adding that authorities were now working to identify the perpetrators.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN body that monitors Tehran’s nuclear program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The factory was allegedly on a list of targets presented to the administration of former US President Donald Trump last year by Israel, which regards the Iranian nuclear program as a cover for developing nuclear warheads, a claim denied by Tehran.

The incident follows several sother uspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional tensions in recent months, amid diplomatic efforts to resurrect Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with world powers.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal in 2018 has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest ever levels, although still short of those required to develop weapons. 

Iran has said that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the US lifts sanctions imposed after Trump withdrew from the JCPOA.

Earlier this week, Iran’s sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr underwent an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown. Authorities had warned earlier this year of the plant’s possible closure because of US sanctions that supposedly prevented Iran procuring equipment for repairs.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later also described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

* With AP


Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel
Updated 12 min 35 sec ago

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel
  • Ex-UN appeal judge: Ebrahim Raisi ‘guilty of crimes against humanity’
  • ‘If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled to arrest him and put him on trial’

LONDON: Iran now has an “international criminal” as its president, according to a panel of experts who warned that this could mean he faces arrest if he leaves the country and may be unable to attend the UN.

At an event on Thursday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and attended by Arab News, a panel of diplomats and human rights experts said Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacres of political prisoners means he is guilty of crimes against humanity — a label that could seriously harm his global diplomatic standing.

“We now have an international criminal as president ... He’s guilty of crimes against humanity, committed in late 1988 by the slaughter of thousands of prisoners,” said Geoffrey Robertson, a former UN appeal judge and former president of the war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

Robertson, who has conducted an extensive investigation into the 1988 massacres, added that Raisi and his Justice Department henchmen sent prisoners to their deaths in “two waves.”

First killed, Robertson said, were members, allies and sympathizers of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a political group that participated in the 1979 revolution but was later turned upon by the regime following a political disagreement.

“Most of them had actually already completed their sentences. They were executed without pity,” said Robertson.

“The second wave was of theocratic dissidents: Communists, atheists, left-wingers. They were executed for being opposed to the theocratic state of Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini. There we have a crime against humanity.”

Most of the people killed were detained for participating in protests in the early 1980s, said Robertson. They were then subjected to what Amnesty International has called “death commissions,” in which judiciary officials led by Raisi, who was then a prosecutor in Tehran, asked them apparently innocuous questions.

“They didn’t know it, but on their answers their lives depended,” said Robertson. Those who gave answers indicating an MEK or atheist affiliation were blindfolded and “ordered to join a conga line that led straight to the gallows,” he added.

“They were hung from cranes four at a time … Some were taken to army barracks at night, directed to make their wills and then shot by firing squad.”

Raisi’s direct involvement in these crimes could come back to bite Iran in an unexpected way, Robertson said.

“The UN will have to grapple with the fact that one of its members is led by an international criminal,” he added.

“If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled under its law — universal jurisdiction as we call it — to arrest him and put him on trial,” said Robertson

Nick Fluck, president emeritus of the law society of England and Wales, pointed out that Raisi has said in press conferences that he is “proud” of his role in the 1988 massacres.

This “serves as an important wakeup call that we can’t just sit silently on the sidelines. Silence and inaction don’t produce change, and in this case it’s clear that change is radically needed,” Fluck said.

“This is a leader who’ll be widely, I hope, shunned. There will be a lack of credibility about anything he may say.”

Fluck said Raisi’s domestic legitimacy is also seriously lacking, following an election that saw heavy state involvement, with hundreds of candidates barred from running and millions of Iranians boycotting the poll.

“Dissidents and reformists urged voters to boycott the poll. That’s perhaps why, although he inevitably won the election, he did so with a very low turnout,” Fluck added.


300 migrants may have died in recent capsizing of ship off Yemen coast: UN

A UN official said on Thursday that as many as 300 migrants may have died after a ship capsized recently off Yemen's Red Sea coast. (Shutterstock)
A UN official said on Thursday that as many as 300 migrants may have died after a ship capsized recently off Yemen's Red Sea coast. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2021

300 migrants may have died in recent capsizing of ship off Yemen coast: UN

A UN official said on Thursday that as many as 300 migrants may have died after a ship capsized recently off Yemen's Red Sea coast. (Shutterstock)

DUBAI: A UN official said on Thursday that as many as 300 migrants may have died after a ship capsized recently off Yemen's coast, highlighting the risks of a longstanding migration route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf states in search of work.

UN resident and humanitarian coordinator David Gressly said the migrants crisis is adding more pressure on an already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.

A number of bodies washed up at Ras Al-Arah on Yemen’s Red Sea coast earlier this month after a migrant boat sank offshore.


Egypt to allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter without PCR test

Egypt to allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter without PCR test
Updated 24 June 2021

Egypt to allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter without PCR test

Egypt to allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter without PCR test
  • Travelers must present officially issued QR-coded certificates to prove they have received one of the six vaccines approved by the Egyptian Drug Authority and the WHO
  • Egypt lifted many restrictions at the beginning of June and hopes to see an upsurge in tourism this year, as that sector usually accounts for 15% of the country’s GDP

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Health announced on Thursday that the country will allow some foreign travelers who have received their full course of approved COVID-19 vaccines to enter without taking a PCR test.

Travelers must present officially issued QR-coded certificates to prove they have received one of the six vaccines approved by the Egyptian Drug Authority and the World Health Organization: Sputnik, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Sinopharm, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson (which only requires one dose).

In a statement to airports and ports, the ministry said that entry without a PCR test will be granted to those who received their second jab more than 14 days before traveling.

However, travelers from high-risk countries including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Brazil, will have to take an ID NOW COVID-19 test on arrival, regardless of their vaccination status. If the result of that test is positive, a PCR test will be performed. If that test is also positive, the passenger will be transferred to a designated hospital to quarantine.

On Thursday, Egypt reported 466 new COVID-19 cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 278,761.

Egypt lifted many restrictions at the beginning of June and hopes to see an upsurge in tourism this year, as that sector usually accounts for 15 percent of the country’s GDP.


Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France

Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France
Updated 24 June 2021

Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France

Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France
  • Antiquities retrieved following joint investigations by the Egyptian Public Prosecution office and French judicial authorities
  • Alaa Yousef, Egypt’s ambassador to France, praised the collaboration, describing it as an achievement that added to the record of Egyptian-French bilateral relations

CAIRO: Egyptian officials have retrieved 114 looted antiquities smuggled to France following joint investigations by the Egyptian Public Prosecution office and French judicial authorities.

Heading a high-level delegation, Hamada Al-Sawy, Egypt’s public prosecutor, arrived in Paris on Tuesday and visited the Egyptian Embassy, along with Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, to resume the retrieval process and halt any attempts to sell the artefacts.

The officials took inventory of the recovered items in preparation for the transfer to Cairo, the Egyptian prosecution said on Wednesday.

The pieces were transferred to the embassy and unpacked with the help of the French Interior Ministry.

Al-Sawy said the public prosecution office is following a plan within the framework of Egypt’s strategy to recover its smuggled antiquities and preserve their history.

He highlighted the need for Cairo and Paris to exchange information on criminal investigation techniques and new technologies in fighting crime.

Al-Sawy also detailed the effective cooperation between all stakeholders in combating organized and transnational crimes, terrorism, money laundering, antiquities smuggling, human trafficking and violence against women.

Alaa Yousef, Egypt’s ambassador to France, praised the collaboration, describing it as an achievement that added to the record of Egyptian-French bilateral relations.

Both countries’ relations have strengthened in several areas over recent years, he added.