US officials announced criminal charges on March 23 against nine Iranian individuals in connection with a massive cyber theft campaign that targeted universities, government entities, and businesses across the globe.
The US Justice Department accused the nine Iranians of working under the cover of an organization called the Mabna Institute to steal intellectual property, research, and other data on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an intelligence-gathering entity within the Iranian government
“These nine Iranian nationals allegedly stole more than 31 terabytes of documents and data from more than 140 American universities, 30 American companies, five American government agencies, and also more than 176 universities in 21 foreign countries,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. “For many of these intrusions, the defendants acted at the behest of the Iranian government and, specifically, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Department of Justice will aggressively investigate and prosecute hostile actors who attempt to profit from America’s ideas by infiltrating our computer systems and stealing intellectual property. This case is important because it will disrupt the defendants’ hacking operations and deter similar crimes.”
Targets included the US Department of Labor, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the state of Hawaii, the state of Indiana, the United Nations, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, according to officials.
Two of the defendants, Gholamreza Rafatnejad and Ehsan Mohammadi, founded the Mabna Institute in 2013. According to the indictments, the Institute then began targeting more than 100,000 professors worldwide, successfully stealing credentials of about 8,000 professor email accounts at 144 US universities and 176 universities in 21 other countries.