Two men charged with hacking websites in retaliation for Soleimani


Marwan Abusrour

Marwan Abusrour

Behzad Mohammadzadeh

Behzad Mohammadzadeh

Sepah Investment Company

Sepah Investment Company

Brigadier General Qassam Soleimani

Brigadier General Qassam Soleimani

Federal prosecutors in Boston have charged two hackers believed to be living in Iran and the Palestinian territories with damaging “multiple websites” across the United States, including sites linked to Massachusetts companies, in retaliation for a January airstrike that killed General Qasem Soleimani of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office on Tuesday identified the defendants as Behzad Mohammadzadeh, approximately 19 and an Iranian national, and Marwan Abusrour, a man in his 20s described as a “stateless national of the Palestinian Authority.” Both remain at large.

“Foreign hackers are a persistent commercial and national security threat to the United States,” Lelling said in a statement. “Working with our law enforcement partners worldwide, we will aggressively pursue, prosecute and apprehend those who use the internet to attack American interests.”

The men were indicted earlier this month by a federal grand jury in Massachusetts on charges of conspiring to commit intentional damage to a protected computer and intentionally damaging a protected computer, records show.

Shortly after the killing of Solemani in January, Mohammadzadeh, who has publicly claimed to have defaced more than 1,100 websites worldwide with pro-Iranian and pro-hacker messages, transmitted computer code to about 51 sites hosted in the United States, according to an indictment filed in US District Court in Boston.

He allegedly replaced the websites’ content with photos of Solemani, whom the United States has blamed for killing American troops in Iraq, shown against a background of the Iranian flag, along with a message in English that said “Down With America” and other text, the indictment stated.

Some of the targeted websites were hosted on computers owned and operated by an unspecified company headquartered in Massachusetts. Additional defaced sites were viewed on computers in Massachusetts, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said Mohammadzadeh conspired with Abusrour to hack into vulnerable websites to “protest and retaliate against the actions of the United States in an effort to seek revenge, to cause economic harm to the United States, and to draw attention to this protest.”

The men, along with other unnamed co-conspirators, also touted their exploits on social media, prosecutors said.

Starting Jan. 7, the defaced sites directed viewers to Mohammadzadeh’s Instagram account, which led to a website where hackers using pseudonyms post screenshots of their network intrusions, prosecutors said.

On that same date, Abusrour posted a screenshot of messages between him and Mohammadzadeh on his Instagram account. In the exchange, Abusrour listed the seven websites that had been defaced, at least in part with Mohammadzadeh’s code, prosecutors said.

Soleimani’s funeral in Iran drew a massive crowd, filling thoroughfares and side streets in the capital city, Tehran. It was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The United States blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death.

Lelling’s office said the Defense Department on Jan. 2 confirmed that Soleimani had been killed in an airstrike in Baghdad. Iranian state TV reported at the time that nine others were also killed in the bombing.

On Tuesday, John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said the alleged hackers harmed “innocent third parties.”

“Their misguided, illegal actions in support of a rogue, destabilizing regime will come back to haunt them, as they are now fugitives from justice,” he said in a statement.

Source » bostonglobe

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