Saturday, March 24, 2018

IRGC and Other Iranian Cyber Activities

Earlier this week the US government publicly went after the IRGC. President Trump's Nowruz statement on Monday was mainly about the evils of the IRGC rather than the holiday itself. On Friday Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein announced indictments for a number of Iranians with the IRGC for hacking.

A third incident, the naming of John Bolton as the new national security adviser to President Trump can also be seen as an anti-IRGC move, given Bolton's belligerence towards the regime and his affinity for the Marxist cult the MeK.

Whether this is coincidental or not is hard to discern, given the chaotic and disjointed nature of the administration and so it is the hacking announcement that interests me most.

A few years back I'd noticed a series of pro-Iranian bots tweeting about the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's "Letter to the Youth in Europe and North America". I wrote about this in detail noting how the bots and message evolved. It was not particularly sophisticated, did not gain much traction, but polluted trending and other hashtags on various social media. Another followup campaign titled "Powerful_Iran" was covered by the BBC.

The hacks and bots seem connected, and are clearly linked to the regime in some manner, but the details are unclear. The distinction between the more skilled hackers and the Twitter bots makes me curious about the Iranian cyber programs, how they are set up, who runs them, and if there are multiple organizations or factions running them. I would be surprised if the recently indicted hackers are directly responsible for the older bot networks, but I'd also not rule it out.

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