Commentary

Iran Hacks Young State Dept. Staffers' Social Media

Those crazy kids over at the U.S. State Department are getting into all kinds of trouble thanks to social media. It turns out that Iranian hackers have infiltrated State Department computers by gaining access to email accounts as well as the social media profiles of young State Department staffers, according to The New York Times, which cited diplomats and law enforcement officials familiar with the matter.

The hackers, evidently backed by the Iranian government, used their access to staffers’ social media accounts to trace their connections and gain access to their friends and acquaintances throughout the Obama administration, according to the NYT. The State Department was first alerted to the security breaches when Facebook told the affected staffers that “state-sponsored” hackers had gained access to their accounts.

The infiltration occurred during high-profile negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and was probably intended to give Iranian spies insight into the stance adopted by the Obama administration, as well as the way the eventual agreement would be implemented.

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The U.S., EU, and Iran finally struck a deal this summer that called for the dismantling of much of the program in return for the lifting of damaging economic sanctions. Significantly, the NYT notes that the infiltration efforts stopped for a period following the first announcement of the agreement in June, as Iranian hackers turned their attention to targets in Israel and the Islamic State (ISIS) -- but then resumed in August, not coincidentally just as attention focused on the possibility that the U.S. Congress might derail the deal.  

Iranian hackers have also targeted defense contractors and Iranian dissidents in the U.S., as well as U.S. banks, disabling their Web sites, and against Saudia Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company; Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter enemies locked in a rivalry for influence in the Persian Gulf region. Other attacks have targeted Qatar and the Sands Casino in Las Vegas.

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