Iran-backed hackers accused of targeting critical US sectors

Iran-backed hackers accused of targeting critical US sectors
Iranian-government linked hackers have been targeting a “broad range of victims” inside the US, including by deploying ransomware, said an advisory issued Wednesday by American, British and Australian officials. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 17 November 2021

Iran-backed hackers accused of targeting critical US sectors

Iran-backed hackers accused of targeting critical US sectors
  • The attackers leveraged the initial hack for additional operations, such as data exfiltration, ransomware and extortion
  • The group has used the same Microsoft Exchange vulnerability in Australia, officials say

WASHINGTON: Hackers linked to the Iranian government have been targeting a “broad range of victims” inside the United States, including by deploying ransomware, according to an advisory issued Wednesday by American, British and Australian officials.
The advisory says that in recent months, Iran has exploited computer vulnerabilities exposed by hackers before they can be fixed and targeted entities in the transportation, health care and public health sectors. The attackers leveraged the initial hack for additional operations, such as data exfiltration, ransomware and extortion, according to the advisory. The group has used the same Microsoft Exchange vulnerability in Australia, officials say.
The warning is notable because even though ransomware attacks remain prevalent in the US, most of the significant ones in the past year have been attributed to Russia-based criminal hacker gangs rather than Iranian hackers.
Government officials aren’t the only ones noticing the Iranian activity: Tech giant Microsoft announced Tuesday that it had seen six different groups in Iran deploying ransomware since last year.
Microsoft said one of the groups spends significant time and energy trying to build rapport with their intended victims before targeting them with spear-phishing campaigns. The group uses fake conference invitations or interview requests and frequently masquerade as officials at think tanks in Washington, D.C., as a cover, Microsoft said.
Once rapport is built and a malicious link is sent, the Iranians are extra pushy at trying to get their victims to click on it, said James Elliott, a member of the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center.
“These guys are the biggest pain in the rear. Every two hours they’re sending an email,” Elliott said at the Cyberwarcon cybersecurity conference Tuesday.
Earlier this year Facebook announced it had found Iranian hackers using “sophisticated fake online personas” to build trust with targets and get them to click on malicious links and often posed as recruiters of defense and aerospace companies.
Researchers at the Crowdstrike cybersecurity firm said they and competitors began seeing this type of Iranian activity last year.
The Iranian ransomware attacks, unlike those sponsored by North Korea’s government, are not designed to generate revenue so much as for espionage, to sow disinformation, to harass and embarrass foes — Israel, chief among them — and to essentially wear down their targets, Crowdstrike researchers said at the Cyberwarcon event.
“While these operations will use ransom notes and dedicated leak sites demanding hard cryptocurrency, we’re really not seeing any viable effort at actual currency generation,” Crowdstrike global threat analysis director Kate Blankenship said.
Crowdstrike considers Iran to be the trendsetter in this novel “low form” of cyberattack, which typically involves paralyzing a network with ransomware, stealing information and then leaking it online. The researchers call the method “lock and leak.” It is less visible, less costly and “provides more room for deniability,” Blankenship said.


Protest by families of Beirut blast victims brings Palace of Justice to standstill

Protest by families of Beirut blast victims brings Palace of Justice to standstill
Updated 20 sec ago

Protest by families of Beirut blast victims brings Palace of Justice to standstill

Protest by families of Beirut blast victims brings Palace of Justice to standstill
  • Relatives express anger over ‘obstruction and evasion of justice’ and say they support investigating Judge Tarek Bitar ‘more than ever’

BEIRUT: Relatives of the victims of the explosion that destroyed Beirut’s Port in August 2020 staged a fresh protest in the city on Monday, amid growing anger and frustration over what they see as “procrastination” that is hampering the official investigation into the blast.

They blocked roads and entrances at the Palace of Justice to express their “anger and deep sense of the injustice inflicted on them by all those who submit requests to reject the work of judicial investigator Judge Tarek Bitar.”

Their demonstration caused work in the courtrooms to grind to a halt. The families accuse authorities of “negligence, ignoring and covering up the crime and the catastrophe of the biggest explosion in modern history that afflicted Lebanon and Beirut.”

They said that they will call for an international investigation “if stagnation and threats continue, and the case is diluted.”

Bitar, 48, has been unable to complete his investigation into the explosion and the part that the actions of politicians and officials might have played in the events that led up to it. The individuals under investigation include a former prime minister, four ministers and a number of deputies, senior security officials and port officials.

The work of the judge has been suspended for more than two months. He took over the case in February last year after his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, who was removed from the investigation by the Court of Cassation following complaints by two ministers accused of negligence that resulted in the deaths of innocent people.

Since taking over the case, Bitar has been subjected to a smear campaign, intense political pressure and threats inside the Palace of Justice from a Hezbollah official. Suspects in the case, including ministers and representatives, who enjoy parliamentary immunity, have filed dozens of lawsuits calling for Bitar to be removed from the case.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah accused Bitar of “politicizing the investigation and exercising discretion.” The party’s supporters staged protests in October demanding the judge be replaced. Supporters of the Amal Movement joined the demonstrations, which escalated into violent clashes and led to deaths.

During the protests at the Palace of Justice on Monday, families of the victims of the port explosion called on officials to make the necessary judicial appointments to ensure requirements are met for the number of members of the general assembly of the Court of Cassation. The court recently lost its quorum when one of its judges retired, which has hampered efforts to resume the investigation.

A delegation representing the protesters reached the office of Judge Suhail Abboud, the president of the Supreme Judicial Council. Members of the delegation said that when asked about restoring the quorum, Abboud told them “any legal measures that can be taken to protect the investigation will be studied.”

The protesters carried banners denouncing the “corrupt political authority and state officials who dilute the investigation file, manipulate the law and want to remove Judge Bitar, who is entrusted by all the Lebanese to reveal the facts and punish the criminal perpetrators, from whichever side.”

Another banner read: “No one is immune when 220 are martyred, 6,500 wounded, half of the capital Beirut is destroyed and hundreds of thousands of citizens are displaced.”

In a statement, the protesters said: “Enough of wasting time, sometimes by resorting to political immunity and sometimes by accusing Judge Bitar of discretion or politicization in an attempt to remove him and end the investigation.

“Today, we affirm that we are behind the judicial investigator more than ever before and we hold the accused criminals responsible for doing nothing but obstruction and evasion of justice.”

The relatives expressed anger over the failure of authorities to act on a warrant, issued by Bitar, for the arrest of MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister who is political assistant to the head of the Amal Movement, Nabih Berri.

They questioned “how this minister was able to hold a press conference a week ago without anyone touching him.”

A judicial source told Arab News that Judge Bitar will remain unable to resume his investigation until appointments are made to the Court of Cassation so that it can make a decision to do so, and ruled out the possibility of these appointments taking place before the presidential election in May.


Qatar FM and UN Syria envoy stress humanitarian access must flow to all Syrians

Qatar FM and UN Syria envoy stress humanitarian access must flow to all Syrians
Updated 29 min 48 sec ago

Qatar FM and UN Syria envoy stress humanitarian access must flow to all Syrians

Qatar FM and UN Syria envoy stress humanitarian access must flow to all Syrians

RIYADH: Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman on Monday met with UN envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen, during his visit to Doha, state news agency QNA reported.
During the meeting, they discussed latest developments in the Syrian crisis, and stressing the importance of continuing to facilitate humanitarian access to all Syrians. 
The two sides also stressed the importance of reaching a political solution that ends the war and the suffering of the Syrian people in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.


Senior European politicians call for UN probe into 1988 Iran massacres

Senior European politicians call for UN probe into 1988 Iran massacres
Updated 44 min 49 sec ago

Senior European politicians call for UN probe into 1988 Iran massacres

Senior European politicians call for UN probe into 1988 Iran massacres
  • Ex-Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt likens killings of 30,000 political prisoners to ‘genocide’
  • Ex-UK Parliament speaker: Iran’s president ‘must be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. He’s a disgrace’

LONDON: Senior politicians from across the EU and UK on Monday urged the UN to open an investigation into the 1988 massacres of political prisoners by the Iranian regime.

Speaking at an event hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and attended by Arab News, former heads of state and senior parliamentary figures threw their support behind its campaign for accountability over the massacres.

Guy Verhofstadt, Belgium’s prime minister from 1999 to 2008, described the massacres — in which Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi played a key role as a prosecutor in Tehran — as “genocide.”

Verhofstadt, now a member of the European Parliament, said: “The impunity crisis in Iran reached a peak in June when Raisi was appointed as the regime’s president. He’s one of the main perpetrators of the 1988 mass murder of more than 30,000 political prisoners.

“Instead of being tried for crimes against humanity, he’s occupying the post of presidency. This shows that impunity is rampant in Iran.”

The 1988 killings heavily targeted the Mujahedin el-Khalq, an opposition group that played a key role in the 1979 revolution but was later violently turned upon by Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini as he sought to consolidate power. 

The MEK is the largest constituent organization of the NCRI, an umbrella movement for Iranian opposition groups.

Many current members of the NCRI lost family and friends in the massacres, which Amnesty International has described as “crimes against humanity.”

Verhofstadt said: “The architects and perpetrators of genocides must always be brought to justice. Crimes against humanity can never go unpunished. We are shocked by the genocide that took place in Iran in 1988. The men and women died only because they strived for a free and democratic Iran.”

Also in attendance at Monday’s event was John Bercow, who served as the speaker in the British Parliament for a decade until 2019.

Best known for his commands of “order” aimed at unruly MPs, he took on a somber tone to tell attendees that “the 1988 massacre must be investigated.” Raisi “must be prosecuted for crimes against humanity,” said Bercow. “He’s a disgrace.”

Bercow also voiced his backing more broadly for the NCRI’s mission, calling himself an “ally” and “friend” of the group, and reiterating his support for their slogan: “Down with the oppressor, be it the shah or the supreme leader.” He added: “I back your call for a secular and democratic republic.”

Other speakers at Monday’s event included former Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Both echoed Bercow’s and Verhofstadt’s calls for an investigation into the 1988 massacres — which they said continues to be covered up to this day — and backed the NCRI under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi, the group’s president-elect.

Rajavi, who has been president of the NCRI since 1993, said the organization seeks to install a government that is “the democratic alternative to the clerical regime.”

The NCRI, she added, “seeks a republic based on the separation of religion and state, gender equality, and the autonomy of the oppressed ethnic groups.”


US and Kuwait call for dialogue to de-escalate Russia-Ukraine crisis

US and Kuwait call for dialogue to de-escalate Russia-Ukraine crisis
Updated 20 min 8 sec ago

US and Kuwait call for dialogue to de-escalate Russia-Ukraine crisis

US and Kuwait call for dialogue to de-escalate Russia-Ukraine crisis
  • Antony Blinken made a phone call to his Kuwait counterpart
  • They also discussed relations and ways to develop their strategic partnership

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone call with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, the State Department said on Monday.
During the call, they discussed “Russia’s threats against Ukraine and the importance of dialogue to de-escalate the situation,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The West has accused Russia of deploying tanks, artillery and about 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s war-torn eastern border in recent weeks, in what NATO says is preparation for an invasion.
Meanwhile, Blinken also said he looks forward to hosting the Kuwaiti minister soon in Washington for the fifth US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue.

The fourth round was held in November 2020, where both government reaffirmed their shared commitment to promote regional stability and security.
Kuwait’s foreign ministry said the two sides also discussed bilateral relations, the strategic partnership between the two countries and ways to enhance them in all fields, as well as the latest regional and international developments.
(With AFP)


Sudanese forces open fire on anti-coup protests, killing 3

Sudanese forces open fire on anti-coup protests, killing 3
Updated 17 January 2022

Sudanese forces open fire on anti-coup protests, killing 3

Sudanese forces open fire on anti-coup protests, killing 3
  • Monday’s deaths bring to at least 67 the number of people killed in near-daily demonstrations in the capital of Khartoum and other cities and towns in Sudan
  • Activist Nazim Sirag said three protesters were killed when security forces opened fire to break up a march in Khartoum — several others were wounded by gunshots

CAIRO: Sudanese security forces opened fire on protesters Monday, killing at least three people and wounding several as thousands took to the streets in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country to denounce an October military coup, activists said.
The military takeover has scuttled hopes of a peaceful transition to democracy in Sudan, more than two years after a popular uprising forced the removal of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019.
The turmoil has been amplified after Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok stepped down earlier this month. Hamdok resigned after his efforts to bridge the gap between the generals and the country’s pro-democracy movement failed.
Monday’s deaths bring to at least 67 the number of people killed in near-daily demonstrations in the capital of Khartoum and other cities and towns in Sudan.
Footage circulating online shows protesters, mostly young people, marching in the streets of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman. There were also protests in Port Sudan, Wad Madani Obaid and the western Darfur region.
Activist Nazim Sirag said three protesters were killed when security forces opened fire to break up a march in Khartoum. He said several others were wounded by gunshots.
The Sudan Doctors Committee, which is part of the pro-democracy movement, also reported the deaths and said dozens of others were wounded Monday in Khartoum.
The fatalities will likely further complicate UN efforts to find a way out of the ongoing crisis. The United Nations and Western governments have widely condemned the crackdown on protesters.
The demonstrations are called by the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Resistance Committees, which were the backbone of the uprising against Al-Bashir. The two groups reject negotiations with the military, insisting it hand over power to a fully civilian government to lead the transition.
The generals, meanwhile, reject the protesters’ demands, saying that power will be handed over only to an elected government.