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US charges two Iranians over major cyber attacks

Ransomware threatens to publish the victim's data unless a ransom is paid [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 November, 2018

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The pair are accused of launching some of the highest profile cyber attacks on US soil, causing over $30 million in losses to victims, according to an indictment.
Two Iranians have been accused by Washington of launching some of the highest profile cyber attacks in the US which "wreaked havoc" on its institutions, Reuters reported.

Iran-based Faramarz Shahi Savandi, 34, and Mohammad Mehdi Shah Mansouri, 27, are charged with deploying SamSam ransomware - malicious software that threatens to publish the victim's data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid - in a near three-year long hacking scheme. 

Hospitals, schools, companies and government agencies, including the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and Newark, New Jersey, were targeted, causing over $30 million in losses to victims and allowing the alleged hackers to collect over $6 million in ransom payments.

One attack in 2016 forced Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles to turn away patients. An attack last year shut down Atlanta courts and much of its city government.

Savandi and Mansouri are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit fraud related to computers, and other counts accusing them of intentionally damaging protected computers and illegally transmitting demands related to protected computers.

Two other Iranians, Ali Khorashadizadeh and Mohammad Ghorbaniyan have been placed under sanctions for exchanging digital ransomware payments into rials, the US Treasury said.

"The allegations in the indictment unsealed today - the first of its kind - outline an Iran-based international computer hacking and extortion scheme that engaged in 21st-century digital blackmail," said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, in announcing the criminal charges on Wednesday.

The US does not have an extradition treaty with Iran meaning it would likely be difficult to hold those charged acountable in a federal court.

In March this year the US unveiled charges against nine Iranians along with sanctions against 10 individuals and the Mabna Institute, accusing them of hacking hundreds of universities on behalf of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Tehran dismissed the charges as "provocative" and "false".

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