US imposes sanctions on Iran over cyber activities, cyberattack on Albania

Iranian flag is seen at the embassy, as Albania cuts ties with Iran over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, Sept. 8, 2022. (Reuters)
Iranian flag is seen at the embassy, as Albania cuts ties with Iran over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, Sept. 8, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 September 2022

US imposes sanctions on Iran over cyber activities, cyberattack on Albania

US imposes sanctions on Iran over cyber activities, cyberattack on Albania
  • The Treasury Department sanctioned Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and its minister Esmail Khatib
  • It comes after Tehran was identified as being behind an unprecedented cyberattack against NATO ally Albania

WASHINGTON: The US government on Friday imposed sanctions on Iran’s intelligence agency and its leadership in response to malicious cyberattacks on Albanian government computer systems in July.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and Esmail Khatib, who heads the ministry, for what it said were cyber-related activities against the US and its allies.
Albania, a NATO member, cut diplomatic ties with Iran and expelled its embassy staff this week over the cyberattack. It was the first known case of a country cutting diplomatic relations over a cyberattack.
The Albanian government has accused Iran of carrying out the July 15 attack, which temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites.
Microsoft, which assisted Albania in investigating the cyberattack, said in a blog post Thursday that it was moderately confident the hackers belong to a group that has been publicly linked to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

It said the attackers were observed operating out of Iran, used tools previously used by known Iranian attackers and had previously targeted “other sectors and countries” consistent with Iranian interests. The destructive malware deployed was also previously used by a “known Iranian actor,” it said.
“Iran’s cyberattack against Albania disregards norms of responsible peacetime State behavior in cyberspace,” Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
“We will not tolerate Iran’s increasingly aggressive cyber activities targeting the United States or our allies and partners,” he said.
The ministry was already designated under US sanctions. Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The July attacks temporarily disrupted government websites and other public services. Analysts say the operation was intended to punish Albania for supporting an Iranian dissident group based in the country, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
Iran has disregarded “norms of responsible peacetime state behavior in cyberspace,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken added in a statement.
The Treasury singled out one active Iranian group, dubbed “MuddyWater,” which it said has conducted cyber campaigns since 2018, exploiting foreign network vulnerabilities to steal sensitive data and deploy ransomware.
MuddyWater conducted a sustained cyberattack against Turkish government entities late last year, it said.
In addition to targeting infrastructure, the Iranian hackers were blamed for leaking documents from the government in Tirana and personal information on certain Albanians.
The sanctions seek to freeze any assets those designated might have under US jurisdiction and forbid any US individuals or companies — including international banks with US operations — to do business with them, a move aimed and blocking their access to global financial networks.
Since at least 2007, Iran’s intelligence agency and its proxies have been accused of conducting cyber operations targeting public and private entities around the world.
Treasury, which uses an Obama-era executive order that targets people and entities that engage in malicious cyber activities as an authority to impose the sanctions, has been ratcheting up its financial penalties on Iran this year.
This comes as President Joe Biden’s administration has been working to renew the tattered Iran nuclear deal, which placed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief, which Iran insists it has never received.
(With AP, AFP and Reuters)


Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
Updated 07 December 2022

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
  • ‘Freedom trampled under pretext of protecting security,’ says Mohammad Khatami
  • Former leader calls on regime to meet protesters’ demands ‘before it is too late’

LONDON: Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami has praised anti-regime protests and urged authorities to meet protesters’ demands “before it is too late,” the BBC reported.

The two-term reformist president, who served between 1997 and 2005, described “woman, life, freedom” as a “beautiful slogan,” and said that it showed Iranian society was moving toward a better future.

Khatami also criticized the security forces’ crackdown and arrest of students.

“It should not be allowed that freedom and security are placed in opposition to one another, and that as a result freedom is trampled under the pretext of maintaining security, or that security is ignored in the name of freedom,” he said.

“I advise officials to appreciate this presence and instead of dealing with it unjustly, extend a helping hand to them and, with their help, recognize the wrong aspects of governance and move toward good governance before it is too late.”

Khatami’s comments came in a statement to mark Student Day on Wednesday, with students having been at the forefront of the wave of protests that are now into their fourth month.

Protests were sparked by the September murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

Her death ignited pent-up frustrations over falling living standards, and discrimination against women and minorities.

Protests have spread to more than 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 of Iran’s provinces, and are now considered the most serious challenge to the regime since it took power in the 1979 revolution.

Iran’s leadership has sought to portray the protests as “riots” instigated by “foreign enemies.”

Despite the brutal crackdown by security forces, which have led to the deaths of 473 protesters and the detention of more than 18,000 people, demonstrations show little sign of abating, with Khatami describing student involvement as “perhaps unprecedented.”

Iran’s judiciary also sentenced five protesters to death on charges of “corruption of the Earth” on Tuesday, with 11 others, including three children” handed long prison sentences.

Director of Iran Human Rights Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told AFP News: “These people are sentenced after unfair processes and without due process. The aim is to spread fear and make people stop protesting.”

A total of 11 protesters have now been sentenced to death, with the country’s judiciary chief saying on Monday that executions will be carried out “soon.”


Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
Updated 07 December 2022

Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
  • Over 500 people killed, says rights body
  • ‘Crackdown led by President Ebrahim Raisa’

LONDON: Iranian authorities have executed more than 500 people this year, according to data released by Iran Human Rights.

Up more than 50 percent on 2021’s figure of 333, the spike in executions marks a dramatic shift following years of decline, with numbers only likely to climb amidst the government’s brutal response to protests in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

Five further death sentences were handed out to protesters yesterday, for killing a member of the security forces, bringing to 11 the total number arising from the protests.

Meanwhile nine people have been charged over the killing of Iran’s nuclear weapons chief, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020. Israel’s security agency, Mossad, has been blamed for Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Newly elected president and former prosecutor, Ebrahim Raisi, played a central role in the 1980s killing spree that resulted in the execution of thousands of opposition supporters.

His election last year, combined with the surging number of death sentences, are considered reflective of the increasing dominance of hardliners over Iranian politics.


New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
Updated 07 December 2022

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
  • Initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks

DUBAI: The UAE’s moon rover is set to blast off “no earlier than Dec. 11” after a series of tests were conducted on the SpaceX rocket.

In a statement, ispace inc., the Japanese firm that built HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander carrying the UAE’s Rashid rover, said the initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks on the rocket.

The Emirati-made Rashid rover will launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, US, at 7:38 a.m. GMT on Dec. 11, embarking on a five-month journey to the moon in the Arab world’s first lunar mission.

 

 

“ispace’s Mission 1 lunar lander was integrated into the SpaceX Falcon 9 fairing and battery charging operations for the lander will continue,” said the firm.

“No issues with the lander itself have been identified. As of today, no major operational changes are planned, with lunar landing scheduled for the end of April 2023.”

If the rover lands successfully, the UAE will be the fourth country to reach the moon.


Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
Updated 07 December 2022

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
  • Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters

DUBAI: Abdul Rahman Abdul Shakour, Somalia’s special envoy for the President for Humanitarian Affairs and Drought, praised the UAE on Wednesday for its relief efforts in the drought-stricken country. 
“The UAE is a pioneer in providing the necessary support to Somalia in this crisis, as it was the first country to respond to the appeal launched by the Somali government to provide urgent relief to those affected by drought,” said Abdul Shakour.
He noted that the UAE fulfilled the needs of approximately 2.5 million people after it airlifted supplies and sent a ship carrying more than 1,000 tons of food and relief items to Somalia. 
Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters, which was jointly sponsored by the Arab League and United Nations.
The conference included several of senior officials from Arab philanthropic organizations and UN humanitarian bodies that aim to coordinate actions plans that will help address the worsening food situation in the African nation.


UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense
Updated 07 December 2022

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum met with Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense during his official visit to the country.

The leaders discussed bilateral ties and areas of potential cooperation with Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob in two separate meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reported state news agency (WAM).

They also reviewed issues of mutual interest.