US media is reporting that two Iranian hackers were indicted by the US over attempts to influence voters and spread disinformation ahead of the 2020 US Presidential election. According to a Washington Post report:
November 18, 2021 Two Iranian men were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday, accused of a brazen hacking and disinformation campaign that targeted American voters in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Seyyed Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, allegedly sent threatening emails to try to scare voters, attempted to break into several states’ voting-related websites and gained access to a U.S. media company’s computer network. Officials say the pair emailed thousands of voters in October, including many Democrats. They allegedly claimed to be Proud Boys and threatened the email recipients with physical attacks if they did not change party affiliation and vote for President Donald Trump. The emails seemed to target primarily voters in Florida and Alaska, officials said at the time. The same illicit effort also pushed a video through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that claimed to show someone hacking into voter websites to create falsified overseas and absentee ballots, according to the indictment. The court filing said that video also falsely claimed to be affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence that largely embraced President Donald Trump.
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The report notes that the indictment does not allege that the Iranian government directed the hacking and disinformation campaign, but the sanctions announcement by the Treasury Department said the hackers were “state-sponsored,” an accusation echoed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The US Justice Department’s full indictment can be accessed here.
In March, we reported on a report by the US intelligence community examining foreign threats to the 2020 US federal elections, concluding that Iran carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s reelection prospects. According to that report:
We assess that Iran carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s reelection prospects—though without directly promoting his rivals—undermine public confidence in the electoral process and US institutions, and sow division and exacerbate societal tensions in the US. We have high confidence in this assessment. We assess that Supreme Leader Khamenei authorized the campaign and Iran’s military and intelligence services implemented it using overt and covert messaging and cyber operations.
Read the full report here.
Iran is one of the most active influence actors in its use of hackers and other cyber operations. The country also employs an extensive network of affiliated groups and organizations such as the Islamic Center of England. Iran also funds PressTV, a global media operation in support of its goals.
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