According to a new report from the Dallas, Texas-based cyber security firm iSight Partners Iranian hackers have allegedly been spying on U.S. defense contractors and high-ranking government officials through social media since at least 2011. The Iranian hackers’ scheme, named Newscaster, was discovered after a significantly “extensive six-month investigation.”
iSight has reported that the Newscaster operation included numerous online individuals posing as reporters, known defense contractors and members of the military. It revolved around a fake news agency named NewsOnAir. iSight could all but “definitively conclude” that Iran was behind the scheme because, among other indicators, the NewsOnAir.org, still active as this goes to press, was originally registered in Tehran, Iran.
The alleged Iranian hackers used social media to forge relationships with targets in both the private and public sectors of mainly the US, UK and Israel in order to garner “personal intelligence.” The hackers have been gathering specific data in order to create weapons systems as well as specifics concerning the relationship between Israel and the US in order to determine details about the US, “economic sanctions and nuclear talks.”
Tiffany Jones, iSight Partners’ senior vice president, stated that this spy campaign is broad-reaching and complex. She said what the Iranian hackers lacked in tech sophistication they have more than made up for with persistence and creativity. Jones could not share too much information about what they discovered due to “confidentiality agreements” but have turned over their finding to the FBI and other appropriate authorities.
John Hultquist, manager of cyber threat intelligence at iSight Partners, added that the alleged Iranian operation “was not that technically sophisticated, they were able to stay below the radar because they built and fabricated such an elaborate social engineering scheme.” While iSight Partners did not name names, Hultquist concluded that the alleged Iranian hackers were undoubtedly a “team of actors working a professional schedule.”