Iranian spies appear to be engaged in their most elaborate and persistent effort yet to dupe lawmakers, journalists and defense contractors into revealing email addresses, network logins and other information that could be used to collect intelligence.
A three-year espionage campaign, believed to have originated in Iran, has used an elaborate scheme involving a fabricated news agency, fake social media accounts and bogus journalist identities to trick victims in the United States, Israel and elsewhere, according to iSight Partners, the company that uncovered the campaign.
Using fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+, the attackers have built an elaborate universe of fake personas bolstered by secondary accounts all for the purpose of garnering the trust of their targets, according to a report issued by the company.
“We’ve never seen a cyber espionage campaign from the Iranians as complex, broad reaching and persistent as this one,” says Tiffany Jones, senior vice president of client services at iSight “The dozen or so primary fictitious personas have done a pretty successful job over the last few years in gleaning thousands of connections and ultimately targeting legitimate individuals through their social media networks.”
The spies also created a fake news organization, NewsOnAir.org, owned and operated by a fake media mogul named Joseph Nillson, whom they illustrated using a photo of Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The news site is populated with articles ripped off from CNN and the BBC appearing beneath the names of NewsOnAir “reporters.” Once those stories are published, Twitter and other social media accounts associated with the fake identities link to them, making the operation appear legitimate.
So, journalism as spycraft. Targets, according to Wired, included “the U.S. military, Congress and various think tanks, along with journalists, defense contractors in the United States and Israel and members of U.S. and Israeli lobbying groups. They also targeted victims in Saudi, Arabia, Iraq and the United Kingdom.”