9 Iranians took part in a government-sponsored hacking scheme that pilfered sensitive information of hundreds of universities, private companies and government agencies, according to the FBI.
(FBI Wanted Poster via AP)
Federal agencies issued criminal prosecution and sanctions Friday against nine Iranians accused of hacking into sensitive information of hundreds of universities, private companies and US government entities.
The Iranian suspects, accused of working in the behest of the Iranian government-tied Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps, the hacked computer systems of about 320 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad to steal expensive science and engineering research that was then used by the Iranian government, or sold for profit, prosecutors said.
More than 100,000 professors all over the world targeted with spear-phishing e-mails, making the hacking of the scheme one of the largest state-sponsored cybercrime cases ever charged by the Department of Justice, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The involved professors and universities were not identified.
The Ministry of Justice said that the hackers stole about 31 terabytes of academic research and intellectual property that is sent to servers outside of the United States for profit. That the amount of data is said to be much larger than the total contents of the Library of Congress.
“Just in case you’re wondering, they are not admiring our work,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said. “They steal, and they take the honor, and they sell it to others.”
“Just in case you’re wondering, they are not admiring our work. They steal, and they take the honor, and they sell it to others.”
– FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich
The information that was stolen, which was sold through two websites to customers in Iran, the cost of AMERICAN universities, about $3.4 billion to purchase and access.
The hackers are also accused of breaking into the networks of the government, including the Ministry of Labor, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the United Nations and the private sector, including 36 U.s. companies, the Journal reported.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during a press conference with other law enforcement officials at the Ministry of Justice to announce nine Iranians charged with running a massive cyber theft campaign, in Washington, USA, March 23, 2018.
The Ministry of Justice said that the hackers were connected to an Iranian organization called the Mabna Institute, founded by two of the suspects, who prosecutors said entered into a contract with the Iranian government to steal scientific research from other countries.
“By bringing these criminal acts, we reinforce the norm that most of the civilized world accepts: Nation-states does not steal intellectual property for the purpose of giving domestic industry an advantage,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in announcing the charges.
The defendants are likely to never be prosecuted in an American courtroom, because there is no extradition treaty with Iran. But the grand jury indictment, filed in a federal court in New York City, is part of the government’s “name and shame” strategy to publicly identify foreign hackers, block them to travel without risk of arrest and their countries on the height.
“People travel. They take vacations, they make plans with their families,” Bowdich said. “With your name, face and description on a ‘Wanted’ poster makes the move from pretty much more difficult.”
“With your name, face and description on a ‘Wanted’ poster makes the move from pretty much more difficult.”
– FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich
On Friday, the U. S. Treasury Department also imposed sanctions against the nine suspects, and the Mabna Institute, the Magazine reported. The sanctions block access to the AMERICAN businesses and entities, including financial transactions.
Tehran responded with Bahram Ghasemi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign affairs condemns the move and called it “provocative, illegal and without justification.”
Ghasemi said the costs are “a sign of hostility of the AMERICAN government toward the Iranian nation.” He said that the U. S will not take advantage of the move aimed to “thwart” the scientific growth of Iran.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Amy’s Place is a news editor and reporter for Fox News.