Justice Department indicts Iran hackers in massive financial cyberattack

DDoS attacks stretched out over three years

fbi wanted
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey participates in a news conference to announce indictments on Iranian hackers for a coordinated campaign of cyber attacks in 2012 and 2013 on several U.S. banks and a New York dam, at the Justice Department in Washington March 24, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The U.S. Department of Justice has indicted seven Iranian hackers in connection with cyberattacks on U.S. banks, the New York Stock Exchange, AT&T and a water facility in New York.

The seven live outside the U.S. and it’s questionable whether they will ever be apprehended and tried, according to reports by Reuters, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The charges described the seven as experienced computer hackers who performed work for the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

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Some of them worked for Iranian security companies ITSec Team, and Mersad Company.

The attacks – all DDoS attacks -started in 2011, a year after discovery of the Stuxnet worm, believed created by the U.S. and Israel, that sabotaged centrifuges used in the Iranian nuclear program.

In a press conference, Attorney General Loretta Lynch described the attacks as systematic and widespread.

According to the DoJ: Between late 2011 and mid-2013, the U.S. financial sector suffered a large-scale and coordinated campaign of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Through these attacks, the servers of 46 financial institutions were flooded with traffic over the course of 176 days – and as a result, online services were disrupted and hundreds of thousands of Americans were unable to access bank accounts online. The attacks threatened our economic well-being and our ability to compete fairly in the global marketplace – both of which are directly linked to our national security. And we believe that they were conducted with the sole purpose of undermining the targeted companies and damaging the online operation of America’s free market, Lynch said.

“For the purpose of carrying out the attacks, each group built and maintained their own botnets, which consisted of thousands of compromised computer systems owned by unwitting third parties that had been infected with the defendants’ malware, and subject to their remote command and control. The defendants and/or their unindicted co-conspirators then sent orders to their botnets to direct significant amounts of malicious traffic at computer servers used to operate the websites for victim financial institutions, which overwhelmed victim servers and disabled them from customers seeking to legitimately access the websites or their online bank accounts. Although the DDoS campaign caused damage to the financial sector victims and interfered with their customers’ ability to do online banking, the attacks did not affect or result in the theft of customer account data,” the DoJ stated.

Some of the banks attacked were: including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Capital One and PNC Bank.

The attack against the water facility hit the back office for the Bowman Ave. Dam in Rye, N.Y., but the attackers failed to gain access to the dam controls because they were offline for maintenance, she said, according to reports. That attack has been interpreted as a trial run to work out how best to compromise the industrial control systems that open and close dams, valves in manufacturing systems, switches in electrical grids and the like.

Those indicted are: Ahmad Fathi, Hamid Firoozi, Amin Shokohi and Sadegh Ahmadzadegan (online handle: Nitr0jen26), Omid Ghaffarinia (online handle: PLuS), Sina Keissar and Nader Saedi (aka Turk Server).

These indictments are similar to ones two years ago in which the U.S. charged five members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with launching cyberattacks against U.S. businesses.

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