It was the “most elaborate social-engineering campaign” these security researchers had ever seen.
A new report from iSight Partners, a Dallas-based computer-security firm, exposed on Thursday a three-year cyberespionage campaign carried out by Iranian hackers. The digital attacks, which infected about 2,000 U.S. personal computers since 2011, targeted members of the U.S. military and Congress, as well as diplomats, lobbyists, and Washington-based journalists.
The long-term campaign, dubbed “Newscaster” by the security firm, employed a dozen fake social-media accounts on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Hackers sent targets links that, when accessed, would unleash malware. They directed people to fake login screens to steal their user names and passwords. They impersonated journalists and defense contractors, and even set up a fake news website to lure victims.
All signs pointed to Iran as the source. Nicole Perlroth writes in The New York Times:
There were many clues. The fake NewsOnAir.org website was registered in Tehran and sites that hackers used to deploy their malware were also hosted in Iran. The malware that the hackers used contained several Persian words. The time stamps of hackers’ activity tracked with professional working hours in Tehran. They even took the day off on Iranian weekends and holidays.
Another telltale sign, researchers said, was the content the hackers posted on their personas’ social media. In some cases, they posted Iranian jokes to their Facebook pages. One hacker used a Facebook page to ask followers, “What’s kind of sanction will lead to undermining the Iranian nation?”
It’s unclear exactly what information these hackers stole. But the fact that such a highly coordinated attack went unnoticed for several years suggests that the technical skills of Iranian hackers, usually outdone by far-superior Chinese and Russian hackers, are improving. This time last year, a wave of attacks targeting American energy companies was traced to Iran. Back then, U.S. intelligence officials were already worried about Iranian hackers’ growing talents.
What We're Following See More »
First, it was Sean Spicer. Then Reince Priebus. Now, presidential adviser Steve Bannon, perhaps the administration's biggest lightning rod for criticism, is out. “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.” That's not to say the parting of ways isn't controversial. Bannon says he submitted his resignation on Aug. 7, but earlier today, "the president had told senior aides that he had decided to remove Mr. Bannon."
"The Trump administration has ended Operation Choke Point, the anti-fraud initiative started under the Obama administration that many Republicans argued was used to target gun retailers and other businesses that Democrats found objectionable. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told GOP representatives in a Wednesday letter that the long-running program had ended, bringing a conclusion to a chapter in the Obama years that long provoked and angered conservatives who saw Choke Point as an extra-legal crackdown on politically disfavored groups."
"Liberal groups are raising questions about a speaking appearance Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch plans to make next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Gorsuch is scheduled to headline a luncheon celebrating the 50th anniversary of conservative group The Fund for American Studies on September 28, days before the next SCOTUS term begins October 2. Steve Slattery, a spokesman for The Fund for American Studies, said Gorsuch had nothing to do with venue choice, which was made long before the group asked Gorsuch to speak."