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DOJ charges Iranians with massive cybertheft of US information

The U.S. Department of Justice charged nine Iranians with a massive state-sponsored hacking campaign into universities, businesses and government agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and other Justice Department officials said in a March 23 statement that the defendants worked on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The charges came after President Donald Trump said in January that he would not extend a waiver on sanctions on Iran under a 2015 nuclear agreement without big changes to the deal. Trump said he wants international weapons inspectors to be granted access to all Iranian sites and an indefinite extension of limits on the country's uranium enrichment. The next waivers are due May 12.

"Today, in one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice, we have unmasked criminals who normally hide behind the ones and zeros of computer code," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in the statement.

The Justice Department said the hackers were affiliated with an Iran-based company called the Mabna Institute. Along with siphoning information from FERC, which oversees the U.S. energy grid, the hackers also hit the Labor Department, the United Nations, the United Nations Children's Fund, Hawaii, Indiana, and 47 domestic and foreign private-sector companies.

Between 2013 and December 2017, the hackers stole research data from universities and from email accounts of employees in government agencies, private companies and nongovernmental organizations. They also accessed the computer systems of approximately 320 universities in 22 countries, including 144 schools in the U.S. The Justice Department said the U.S.-based universities spent more than $3.4 billion to procure and access the data and intellectual property, which the hackers sold to Iran and other customers.

The charges against the defendants included conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, wire fraud and identity theft. A federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York handed down the indictments.