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US Sanctions IRGC-Affiliated Hackers on Ransomware Charges

US Sanctions IRGC-Affiliated Hackers on Ransomware Charges

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The new move by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed several sanctions over the defendants’ ransomware activities.

Ten individuals and two shell companies known for extorting U.S. companies and infrastructure providers have been hit with sanctions barring all commercial activity with named parties — cryptocurrency or otherwise.

At the same time, the DOJ has also filed criminal charges against three named individuals in absentia.

Hospitals and transport hubs under attack

Attacks led by the IRGC’s alleged shell companies, Najee Technology and Afkar System, targeted government agencies and businesses across the United States and its allies in the Middle East since at least 2020. Once the hackers managed to gain access to their target’s IT systems, they then lock out the bona fide users and demand a ransom in Bitcoin in exchange for the decryption keys.

Although these ransomware attacks would not have been taken so seriously if they had only affected small businesses, the hacker’s targets were institutions of importance to the public.

“Between June and August 2021, the group accelerated its malicious activities by targeting multiple U.S. victims, including transportation providers, healthcare practices, emergency services providers, and educational institutions.”

Both sanctions and criminal charges were applied

Not only have the individuals been added to the US government’s official sanctions list, they have also been legally charged by a New Jersey court. Admittedly, the second legal action is rather insignificant since all the suspects are overseas in a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. However, the transfer prevents the group from traveling to the United States or any country allied with it.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also released a statement for the technically inclined, detailing the procedures used in cyber attacks, how to prevent similar incidents, and so on. According to Brian E. Nelson, Treasury Secretary for Terrorism and Money Laundering Intelligence, these attacks are just the latest in a series of ransomware attacks carried out by allegedly government-sponsored hackers in several countries.

“Ransomware actors and other cybercriminals, regardless of their national origin or operational base, have targeted businesses and critical infrastructure across the board – directly threatening the physical security and economy of the United States and other countries. We continue to coordinate efforts with our global partners to combat and prevent ransomware threats, including to the IRGC related threats.

The US government and its various security agencies are continuing their efforts to combat similar attacks and have offered a reward of up to $5 million for information on the suspects in this case.

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