The Trump administration indicted members of an Iranian hacker network on Friday, claiming that the group was responsible for “one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns” the U.S. has prosecuted.
Officials said the hackers allegedly targeted dozens of U.S. universities, companies and government agencies—as well as the United Nations—and stole around 31 terabytes of data and intellectual property from entities worldwide.
The group was allegedly hired by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a small division of Iran’s military tasked with defending the country’s Islamic Revolution. The IRGC is controlled by Tehran’s most hardline religious leaders, and often collects information on foreign entities. Nine of the 10 people named in the indictment were connected to the Mabna Institute, an Iranian tech firm that allegedly hacks on behalf of the IRGC.
Iranian hackers have often been viewed as less skilled and less tenacious than hackers from countries like China and Russia. But Friday’s indictment, together with recent research, suggests that this is changing quickly.
“They’re more sophisticated than the other players,” Robert Katz, executive director of the Cyber Science Institute, told Newsweek.
“They had a major coordinated attack that did damage to our financial institutions on Wall Street. That was 2012, that was before we saw Russia being organized. Shortly after that, they had a physical attack against Saudi Aramco. They destroyed computers and turned them into paperweights,” Katz described.
“All of those are very sophisticated compared to all of the unsophisticated stuff we’ve seen from North Korea and the outright silly stuff we’ve seen from Russia. The Russia stuff was just a basic phishing attack,” Katz continued. Iranian hackers also attacked a U.S. dam in 2016, an attack officials at the time called “a frightening new frontier of cybercrime.”