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Nine Iranian hackers infiltrated 144 US universities and more – $3.4 billion in cyber theft

Computer code. (PXhere/Released)
March 23, 2018

Nine Iranians acting on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were charged Friday with conducting a massive cyber theft campaign on American and foreign universities, businesses and government agencies, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced.

The suspected hackers attacked computer systems of the U.S. Labor Department, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, United Nations, and the states of Hawaii and Indiana

The hackers also breached roughly 320 universities in 22 countries, federal officials said – 144 of those victims were American universities. The hackers allegedly stole research that cost the schools about $3.4 billion, officials said.

“The stolen information was used by the Revolutionary Guard or sold for profit in Iran,” Rosenstein said.

The hackers acted for the IRGC, Iran’s strongest military force that was founded after the Iranian revolution in 1979. While Iran’s regular military, the Iranian Army or the Artesh, exists to defend the nation’s borders from outside enemies, the IRGC exists specifically to counter domestic affairs in order to protect the country’s radical Islamic system. They are the defense against military coups or “deviant movements” against the government.

The U.S. last year said it was considering a proposal that would designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as an official terrorist organization. President Donald Trump this past fall announced sanctions on the IRGC for the Corps’ support of terrorism.

The Iranians were working on behalf of the Mabna Institute, an organization that two of the suspected hackers founded “with the stated purpose of helping Iranian universities access scientific research,” the deputy attorney general said.

The hackers’ work “consisted of stealing research through illegal computer intrusions,” he explained.

The U.S. is charging nine Iranians for committing seven federal crimes. Charges included computer fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and identity theft.