Iranian hackers conducted 3 year campaign trying to spy on US leaders over Facebook

'Elaborate' campaign targeted politicians and military personnel to trick them into giving up log-in credentials and downloading malware

Iranian hackers created a fake news website and a string of fake Facebook profiles as part of a three-year campaign to spy on US politicians and military officers, a new report has claimed.

Security firm iSight Partners say that fake social media personas were created by the hackers with complex backgrounds. These were used to contact targets, sending them legitimate content before trying to gain access to government and corporate networks through the use of malware.

The hackers also "intimated their interest in specific defence technology, as well as military and diplomat information by their targeting" said the company.

The operation’s targets reportedly included ambassadors, a four-star Navy admiral and lawmakers, and personnel from countries including Britain, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

iSight has not disclosed the identity of any victims nor if any data has been stolen, although the firm’s executive vice president Tiffany Jones said “if it's been going on for so long, clearly they have had success.”

As part of the campaign the hackers set up a fake news site called NewsOnAir.org which republished articles from the BBC, Reuters and the Associated Press under the names of six fake journalists.

A screenshot of the fake news site. Credit: iSight

These personas – along with eight faked defence contractors – were given profiles on Facebook and other social media networks that were then used to contact targets in the US and other countries.

iSight said that this type of “social engineering” campaign was the most elaborate by any nation to be uncovered to date and that the perpetrators wanted to stay “under the radar.”

“This campaign is not loud. It is low and slow," said Jones. "They want to be stealth.”

To build credibility the fake personas attempted to befriend victims’ friends, colleagues, relatives and classmates, and would initiate contact by sharing legitimate content before sending links containing malware or requesting network credentials.

iSight said that it has alerted the FBI as well as overseas authorities and some victims. The FBI has not issued a statement on the report, although Facebook have said that they discovered the hacking group while investigating suspicious activity on the site.

A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters: “We removed all of the offending profiles we found to be associated with the fake NewsOnAir organization and we have used this case to further refine our systems that catch fake accounts.”

Earlier this month another US cyber security firm FireEye said that it had detected new activity from a hacking group believed to be operating out of Iran named the Ajax Security Team (AST).

FireEye said that the AST had been targeting defence organizations by coding their own malware, describing the move as “an evolution” for the country as it seeks better control political dissent and expand its “offensive cyber capacities.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

    £22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Microsoft Gold Partner for...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior 2nd Line IT Service Engineer

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for a job where...

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy