A surge of Iranian attacks against the email and social media accounts of U.S. officials has been detected over the past few weeks, with an emphasis on officials involved in crafting Iran policy. Journalists and academics have also been targeted.
The Wall Street Journal cites American officials who believe the “flurry” of hacker attacks is related to the arrest of Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American oil company executive who was snatched by Revolutionary Guard intelligence operatives while visiting relatives in Tehran. Namazi, who advocated improved relations and increased trade between Iran and the U.S., becomes the fifth American held hostage by the Iranian regime in defiance of the Obama administration. The White House has refused to comment on Namazi’s plight.
A number of other businessmen have been hassled by Iranian authorities during this period, in what the WSJ portrays as an effort by the Revolutionary Guard and Iranian hardliners to protect their economic monopolies.
Some of the Iranian cyberattacks were evidently built using data seized from Namazi’s computer. In other words, the Revolutionary Guard started going after people listed in his address book.
Contrary to hopes expressed by President Obama and his administration that the nuclear deal would improve relations between the U.S. and Iran, the Wall Street Journal sees these cyberattacks as evidence that “hard-line factions inside the regime, including the military and office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, haven’t moderated their hostility toward Washington.”
Notably, Khamenei has been loudly complaining that the United States wanted to use the nuclear deal to “undermine and weaken the country’s Islamist government.”
When suggestions for leveling sanctions against Iran over its cyberwar campaign were made, Khamenei shot back that such sanctions would violate the terms of the nuclear deal.
Taking a page from China, the Iranians have denied their involvement in these cyberattacks and claimed they are a target of such mischief from rogue hackers.
On-the-record statements from the administration about Iranian hacker attacks were vague. “We’re aware of certain reports involving Iran,” a senior official told Reuters. “While I don’t have a comment on the specific reports, we are aware that hackers in Iran and elsewhere often use cyber attacks to gain information or make connections with targets of interest.”