Justice Dept. charges Iranian nationals for hacking US satellite companies

The Justice Department on Thursday sanctioned three Iranian nationals for allegedly targeting and hacking into U.S. satellite and aerospace companies, the latest charges stemming from alleged state-sponsored hacking.

Iranian nationals Said Pourkarim Arabi, Mohammad Reza Espargham and Mohammad Bayati were indicted for allegedly working on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated terrorist organization, to target companies in the U.S. and around the world.

The defendants are accused of carrying out cyber intrusions and identity theft between 2015 and 2019. The Iranian nationals allegedly had a target list of more than 1,800 satellite technology and international government groups in the United States, Australia, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

They allegedly used social engineering techniques to steal the identities of U.S. employees at these companies in order to target other workers using malicious phishing emails that had malware viruses. U.S. authorities said the men successfully compromised networks and stole intellectual property, personal data and commercial information.

“Today’s charges allege that these individuals conspired in a coordinated campaign with known IRGC members and acted at their direction,” James Dawson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said in a statement Thursday. “The defendants targeted thousands of individuals in an attempt to steal critical information related to U.S. aerospace and satellite technology.”

Arabi, a member of the IRGC, faces a potential sentence of more than 40 years in prison for charges including identity theft and wire fraud. Espargham was indicted on similar charges and faces up to 40 years in prison, while Bayati was charged with computer intrusion and wire fraud and faces up to 25 years in prison. 

All three are residents of Iran and are at-large. A Virginia district court issued arrest warrants for the three men this week, and they are officially on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

The indictment was made public in the wake of two other cases brought against Iranian hackers by the Justice Department this week, in addition to sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department on a group of Iranian nationals and a hacking group for targeting Iranian dissidents and international organizations. 

“For the third time in three days, the Department has charged Iranian hackers,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement. “This case highlights the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ efforts to infiltrate the networks of American companies in search of valuable commercial information and intellectual property. It is yet another effort by a rogue foreign nation to steal the fruits of this country’s hard work and expertise.”

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