America To Charge Iranian Nationals Over Cyber-Attacks – Report

The thaw in the relationship between Iran and the West could be in jeopardy after United States officials have reportedly prepared charges against six Iranian nationals.

The Iranians are accused of conducting a co-ordinated campaign of cyber-attacks against a number of US banks and even a New York dam, back in 2012 and 2013.

Government Link

According to Reuters which quoted unnamed sources, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has prepared an indictment against about a half-dozen Iranians, which could be lodged this week.

It is one of the highest-profile US indictments against a foreign nation on hacking charges. And it comes after the United States embarrassed the Chinese government back in May 2014 when it filed indictments against members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Five Chinese nationals – Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui – were charged for alleged cyber espionage on a number of US organisations. China subsequently denied the charges, arguing that Americans were carrying out massive cyber espionage campaigns against Chinese firms.

Those charges soured relations between the two countries and effectively ended any co-operation over tackling cyber crime together.

The Iranians meanwhile are expected to be publicly named and charged with unlawful access to computers and other alleged crimes, as soon as Thursday morning at a news conference in Washington.

The United States will directly link the Iranians to the Iranian government, similar to when America charged five Chinese soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) two years ago.

The banks have not be identified in the indictment due to fear of retaliation, the source told Reuters. But experts have reportedly claimed that Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, PNC Financial Services and SunTrust Bank, were among the banks targeted.

The dam that is said to have been hacked was the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye Brook, New York. Its back-office computer systems were breached in the cyber-attack, but the attackers did not gain control of the dam’s floodgates.

Investigators apparently believe the hackers were testing their capabilities, and the dam attack  coincided with a spate of distributed denial of service attacks in 2012 against financial institutions.

The DoJ has reportedly declined to comment on the Reuters report.

Government Hacking

If the DoJ does file charges against the Iranians it signals the Obama administration’s latest attempt to hold foreign government responsible for cyber-attacks conducted against US targets.

President Obama has previously accused and publicly condemned North Korea over a 2014 hack on Sony Pictures and vowed to “respond proportionally.”

North Korea mysteriously lost all Internet access in December 2014. The web outage in North Korea lasted for approximately ten hours on December 21 and 22, and the US admitted the blackout was in revenge for that country’s earlier devastating hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The indictment against the Iranians however comes at a sensitive time, as it could potentially derail the nuclear deal signed between the United States and Iran in 2015.

Of course, it should be remembered that the United States and Israeli were widely believed to have been behind the now-famous Stuxnet computer virus which sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program in 2009 and 2010.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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