The charged individuals, as well as the organisation they work for, the Mabna Institue, will also be hit with economic sanctions, United States officials said on Friday.
According to the Justice Department, the group breached computer systems at 144 American universities and 176 universities in 21 other countries, 47 American and foreign companies, the US Department of Labour, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the State of Hawaii, the State of in and the United Nations.
Since 2013, the Mabna Institute carried out cyber intrusions into the computer systems of 144 American universities, the Treasury Department said, and 176 universities in 21 foreign countries.
CLARIFICATION: The case is the second time the U.S. Justice Department has indicted hackers who conducted intrusions of behalf of the Iranian government.
None of the Iranians indicted in 2016 have been arrested or extradited, a justice department spokesman said.
This is not the first time when the US government names and indicts hackers involved in cyberespionage operations believed to have been ordered or coordinated by foreign intelligence agencies, but it is one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns ever to be prosecuted by the DoJ.
On Twitter, some users exploded in anger because of this incident, as it appears that the DOJ was quick to indict the Iranians but not the Russians allegedly involved in the DNC server leak and the alleged breach into the USA voter database. They allegedly breached computer systems belonging to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the United Nations, and the states of Hawaii and IN, according to federal officials. The Iranians allegedly targeted more than 100,000 email accounts of professors around the world. That led some former intelligence officials to question whether the US was opening the door for other countries to take similar actions against contractors who work for the USA government. "Any nation state, Iran in this case, can say these were rogue groups, but when there is overwhelming proof, the circumstantial evidence can pile up". But once clicked on, the links steered the professors to a malicious Internet domain that led them to believe they'd been logged out of their systems and that asked them to enter their log-in credentials.
Those efforts successfully garnered the credentials for about 8,000 logins around the world, again with about half of those at U.S. universities.
The Treasury Department also placed sanctions on another Iranian, Behzad Mesri.
The defendants then sold some of the data through two websites, Megapaper.ir and Gigapaper.ir, to customers in Iran, including to Iran-based public universities and institutions. Over a four year period, Manba Institute is alleged to have gained access to computers at over 300 universities-roughly half of them in the United States-while gathering up a total of 31.5 terabytes of research data.
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