A cyberattack that last month temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and Web sites was likely the work of pro-Iranian hackers seeking to disrupt a planned conference by an Iranian opposition group in Albania, a leading US cybersecurity firm said on Thursday.
In its report, Virginia-based Mandiant expressed “moderate confidence” that the attackers were acting in support of Tehran’s efforts to persecute dissident, saying its findings were based on the attack’s timing, the content of a social media channel used to claim responsibility and similarities in software code used with malware long used to target Persian and Arabic speakers.
The conference, scheduled for July 23 and 24 by the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), was canceled following warnings from local authorities of a possible terrorist threat.
About 3,000 Iranian dissidents from the group live at Ashraf 3 camp in Manez, 30km west of Albania’s capital, Tirana.
The Free Iran World Summit was to have been held at the camp with US lawmakers among the invitees.
A group calling itself “HomeLand Justice” claimed credit for the cyberattack, which used ransomware to scramble data.
Ransomware is best known for its use in for-profit criminal extortion, but is being increasingly wielded for political ends, particularly by Iran.
The claim came on a Telegram channel that also posted documents purported to be Albanian residence permits of MEK members.
A video of the ransomware being activated was also posted.
The channel accused the Albanian government of corruption, using a hashtag referring to the dissident group.
The government said the hackers’ method was identical with attacks last year in other NATO states including Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Belgium.
“This activity poses an active threat to public and private organizations in other NATO member states,” Mandiant said. “As negotiations surrounding the Iran nuclear deal continue to stall, this activity indicates Iran may feel less restraint in conducting cybernetwork attack operations going forward.”
The report came shortly after Iran, the US and the EU announced a resumption of talks to revive a 2015 deal that limited Tehran’s nuclear program before Washington walked away from it under former US president Donald Trump.
On Thursday, the White House said that time is getting “very short” for Iran to accept a return to the international deal.
Additional reporting by AFP
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