US sanctions Iranian ministry over alleged Albania cyberattack
Iran slams the US and UK for remaining silent when it comes to cyberattacks against Tehran, as the US Treasury sanctions Iran's Intelligence Ministry.
The US announced sanctions Friday on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and its Minister Esmail Khatib, after accusing Tehran of being behind a cyberattack against NATO ally Albania.
Reuters said the Iranian Ministry was already designated under US sanctions.
According to the Albanian government, Iran allegedly carried out the attack on July 15, seeking to paralyze public services and access data and communications in government systems.
The US claimed that the Iranian Intelligence Ministry was behind the attack, which Tirana said mostly failed and caused no lasting damage.
"Iran’s cyber attack against Albania disregards norms of responsible peacetime state behavior in cyberspace, which includes a norm on refraining from damaging critical infrastructure that provides services to the public," said US Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson.
The Treasury claimed that the Iranian Ministry directs several alleged cyber-espionage, hacking, and ransomware networks.
"We will not tolerate Iran’s increasingly aggressive cyber activities targeting the United States or our allies and partners," Nelson said in a statement.
The Treasury singled out one Iranian group, dubbed MuddyWater, which it claimed has conducted cyber campaigns since 2018, allegedly exploiting foreign network vulnerabilities to steal sensitive data and deploy ransomware.
MuddyWater conducted a sustained cyber attack against Turkish government entities late last year, it said.
In addition, the Iranian hackers were blamed for leaking documents from the government in Tirana and personal information on certain Albanians.
In a blog post on Thursday, Microsoft, whose cybersecurity research team opened an investigation about the alleged hacking incident, claimed that the alleged Iranian cyber operation involved a combination of digital espionage techniques, data wiping malware, and online information operations
The researchers said the goal of the hackers was to embarrass Albanian government officials.
The sanctions seek to freeze any assets those designated might have under US jurisdiction and forbid any US individuals or companies — including international banks with US operations — to do business with them; a move aimed at blocking their access to global financial networks.
Iran slams US, UK for silence over cyberattacks against Tehran
On its part, the Permanent Mission of Iran to the United Nations slammed Thursday the United States and Britain for remaining silent when it comes to cyberattacks against Tehran.
In a statement, the mission considered that "as a victim of cyber-attacks, Iran strongly condemns any cyber-attack targeting civilian infrastructure in all its forms and manifestations."
"We rejected the baseless accusations of the US and the UK against the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding an alleged cyberattack on Albania," the statement stressed.
The Iranian mission pointed out that "the US and the UK, that had previously remained silent in numerous cyberattacks against Iran’s infrastructures and its nuclear facilities, and had even directly or indirectly supported those measures, lack any legitimacy to level such accusations against Iran."
"As the main victim of terrorism, Iran urges the Member States of the UN to uphold their international obligations in combating terrorism by not harboring or supporting terrorist groups within their territory," the statement read.
Albanian 'baseless' claims 'ill-considered, short-sighted': Iranian FM
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani rejected Wednesday the claims made by the Albanian government and described its decision to sever ties with Iran as unwise.
In a statement, Kanaani said the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers Albania's decision to "sever political relations with our country based on such baseless claims to be an ill-considered and short-sighted action in international relations."
"As one of the countries that have been the target of cyber attacks on its critical infrastructure, the Islamic Republic of Iran rejects and condemns any use of cyberspace as a means to attack the infrastructure of other countries," Kanaani indicated.
The Iranian spokesperson said third-party countries that support terrorism played a key role in Albania's decision to sever ties with Iran, pointing out that the US and Israeli occupation's immediate statements following the Albanian decision proved that there is a new plot and campaign against Tehran.
Kanaani also pointed to Albania's sheltering of a terrorist group and expressed regret that Tirana was influenced by third parties in its inappropriate decisions.
Albania cut ties with Iran over "cyberattack"
Albania broke diplomatic ties with Iran on Wednesday over an alleged cyberattack against the government this summer, as Washington vowed to hold Tehran accountable for targeting its NATO ally.
Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama on Wednesday accused Iran of directing an alleged cyberattack against Albanian institutions on July 15 in a bid to "paralyse public services and hack data and electronic communications from the government systems."
"The Council of Ministers has decided on the severance of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran with immediate effect," announced Rama.
The Prime Minister went on to say that Iranian diplomats and embassy staff had 24 hours to leave the country.
US vows to provide support to Albania
Following the announcement, Washington vowed to provide support to its ally in the Balkans.
"The United States strongly condemns Iran's cyberattack against our NATO ally, Albania," National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
"The United States will take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a US ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace," Watson added.
Albania hosting MEK terrorist group
It is noteworthy that for years, Tirana has been hosting the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), which Iran considers a terrorist group.
Albania agreed in 2013 to take in members of the group at the request of Washington and the United Nations.
The MEK regularly hosts summits in Albania that have long attracted support from conservative US Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence who delivered a keynote address at an event in June.
Albania has expelled a string of Iranian diplomats from the Balkan country over the years, including Tehran's ambassador to the country in December 2018.