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Feds: Iranian hackers compromised more than 8,000 academic email accounts

Feds: Iranian hackers compromised more than 8,000 academic email accounts
[Photo: Colin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0]

The Justice Department released an indictment Friday accusing nine Iranians of taking part in a massive hacking campaign targeting hundreds of universities around the world, as well as 30 U.S. companies, the United Nations, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The suspects, who also face financial sanctions from the Treasury Department, allegedly worked with a Tehran-based organization called the Mabna Institute to steal more than 31 terabytes of data and intellectual property on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian government agencies and universities. They successfully compromised more than 8,000 email accounts belonging to university professors around the world, prosecutors say.

The indictment comes just over a month after special counsel Robert Mueller charged a group of Russian nationals in connection with a clandestine online propaganda scheme around the 2016 presidential election, and just a few days after the FBI and Department of Homeland Security accused Russia of hacking computers managing U.S. infrastructure, including the power grid.

Whether the alleged Iranian hackers will ever see a U.S. courtroom is uncertain, since like other countries that have been accused of hacking U.S. systems, Iran is unlikely to extradite those charged, something U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman seemed to acknowledge in a statement announcing the indictment.

“These defendants are now fugitives from American justice, no longer free to travel outside Iran without risk of arrest,” he said. “The only way they will see the outside world is through their computer screens, but stripped of their greatest asset–anonymity.”

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