DOJ Indicts Iranian Hackers for Hacking Over 144 Universities in the United States

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Mar 23, 2018
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The United States has imposed sanctions on nine Iranians and an Iranian company for alleged hacking of hundreds of universities in the United States and elsewhere for stealing “valuable intellectual property and data.” Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced a series of indictments and financial sanctions against these hackers for hacking into computer systems of 144 US universities.

The US Department of Justice and the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said that nine Iranians in cooperation with the Mabna Institute and the Iranian government have hacked computer systems of 144 US universities and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries.

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Professors were targeted to steal intellectual property

The US government said that the group targeted the email accounts of more than 100,000 professors internationally. As a result of this spearphishing campaign, they managed to successfully compromise 8,000 email accounts of professors, with 3,768 targeted in the US. These accounts were used to search internal networks for data that was allegedly exfiltrated back to Iran.

Some of this data also showed up for sale on Megapaper.ir and Gigapaper.ir (Gigapaper), two websites that were operated by a company controlled by one of those indicted. Officials claimed that Iranian hackers were responsible for stealing “more than 31.5 terabytes of academic data and intellectual property from universities, and email accounts of employees at private sector companies, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations.” They added that the estimated value of the stolen intellectual property is around $3.4 billion.

“The events described in this indictment highlight the need for universities and other organizations to emphasize cyber security, increase threat awareness, and harden their computer networks,” Rosenstein said. “The second important point is that our work on this case is critically important because it will disrupt the criminal operations of the Mabna Institute and deter similar crimes by others.”

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He added that many of these attacks were carried out at the behest of the Iranian government and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “The Department of Justice will aggressively investigate and prosecute hostile actors who attempt to profit from America’s ideas by infiltrating our computer systems and stealing intellectual property,” Rosenstein added.

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