Iranian Cyber Espionage Plot Targeted US-Israel Relations

Thursday, 29 May 2014 08:10 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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Iranian hackers spent three years on a cyber-espionage campaign targeting senior U.S. military officials, members of Congress, lobbyists and others working on foreign policy related to Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The hacking campaign used a phony online news website, NewsOnAir.org, that posted plagiarized stories about defense and foreign policy. The Iranians lured their targets to fake sites through social media networks. They stole log-on credentials after targets connected to them via phony profiles created on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube and other sites, according to iSight Partners, the Dallas-based cyber-security firm that infiltrated the operation.

The people featured in fake profiles purported to work in defense contracting, journalism and government. iSight has dubbed the operation Newscaster because a half-dozen of the fake profiles claimed to work for NewsOnAir.org, Reuters reported.

Victims outside the United States include people in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, according to iSight, which states that Newscaster "is unprecedented in complexity, scale, and longevity."

Among the 2,000 targets discovered in the operation is a four-star Navy admiral, according to iSight, though the company declined to identify anyone by name.

According to The Washington Post, the hackers sought information on "weapon systems development … insight into the U.S. military, the U.S.-Israel alliance or nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States and other powers."

"It is such a complex and broad-reaching, long-term espionage campaign for the Iranians," Tiffany Jones, an iSight senior vice president and a former National Security Council aide in the George W. Bush administration, told the Journal. "What they lack in technical sophistication, they make up in creativity and persistence."

The FBI has been notified as have the social networking sites, according to iSight. Facebook has removed all profiles associated with the phony NewsOnAir and a company spokesman told the Journal it has refined its systems to better snare fake accounts.

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