Facebook first discovered spear phishing attacks of Iranian hackers on State Department employees

Pierluigi Paganini November 26, 2015

Facebook was the first company to notice the intrusion of Iranian Hackers in the e-mail accounts of US State Department officials focused on Iran. The attacks appear politically motivated and aimed to gather data about US-Iranian dual citizens in Iran.

Earlier this month, the computers at the US State Department and other government employees were targeted by hackers. The experts linked the attackers with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, according to investigators the Facebook and e-mail accounts of US State Department officials focused on Iran were compromised to gather data about US-Iranian dual citizens in Iran and about the arrest of an Iranian-American businessman in Tehran in October.

The hackers have taken over social media accounts of junior State Department staff to launch a spear phishing campaign on the employees working in the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs and Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and in the computers of some journalists.

US State Department e-mail system hacked Iranian hackers

Facebook was the first to notice the hacking campaign, the company alerted some of the affected users that their accounts had been compromised by a state-sponsored hackers.

The attack launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard hackers “was very carefully designed and showed the degree to which they understood which of our staff was working on Iran issues now that the nuclear deal is done,” an unnamed senior US official told the Times.

The recent wave of attacks came after a period of apparent calm, the cyber security experts noticed an evolution of the TTPs of the Iranian hackers. Iranian hackers were initially focused on targets belonging to the financial industry, their activities were limited to sabotage and disruption of the targeted infrastructures, such as in the attack on casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp. The fact that the Iranian hackers were more interested in destruction instead gathering intelligence lead the experts to believe that the threat actors were not state-sponsored but pro-Iranian “hacktivists.”

The recent attacks against The State Department attack is clearly a cyber espionage operation, they were initially attributed to Chinese hackers who may have infiltrated the department’s unclassified e-mail systems.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –Iranian hackers, The State Department)

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