The US Treasury Department on Friday sanctioned Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and its leader for allegedly conducting various hacking campaigns against the US government and its allies, including a July cyberattack that disrupted Albanian government services.
The Treasury accused the Iranian spy agency and Esmail Khatib of overseeing “several networks” of hackers involved in cyber espionage and ransomware attacks in “support of Iran’s political goals.”
It’s the latest attempt by US officials to curb the impact of Iran’s hacking, which, according to analysts, Tehran sees as an asymmetric tool for projecting power and pursing political goals.
Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was behind the July hack of the Albanian government, Treasury alleged, an incident that rattled that NATO country and that the White House condemned. Albania said it was severing diplomatic relations with Iran in response in what may be the first case of hacking prompting a break in ties between countries.
In separate statements, Brian Nelson, the under secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, described Iran’s hacking as “increasingly aggressive,” while Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Tehran’s cyber activities “can cause grave damage” to “civilian government services and critical infrastructure sectors.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray in June accused Iranian government-backed hackers of an attempted hack of Boston Children’s Hospital a year prior, a charge that Tehran denied.
Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The sanctions come the week that US cybersecurity firm Mandiant released details of alleged hacking campaigns linked to another Iranian government entity – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – which targeted US government officials focused on Iran policy and Iranian dissidents. The hackers appear to have been instrumental to the IRGC’s spying efforts, and repression, by targeting the mobile phones and email accounts of Iranian activists, and the email accounts of US officials, Mandiant said.
US prosecutors unsealed an indictment of an IRGC member for his alleged role in a plot to assassinate former US national security adviser John Bolton.
The Biden administration has tried to revive a 2015 agreement with Iran to set limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. But Iran’s latest response to US proposals to broker a deal “takes us backwards,” Blinken said Friday.