US Treasury sanctioned Iran ’s Ministry of Intelligence over Albania cyberattack

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The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Iran ‘s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and its Minister of Intelligence over the Albania cyberattack.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Iran ‘s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and its Minister of Intelligence over the cyber attack that hit Albania in July.

MOIS is the primary intelligence agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a member of the Iran Intelligence Community. It is also known as VAJA and previously as VEVAK (Vezarat-e Ettela’at va Amniyat-e Keshvar) or alternatively MOIS.

Since at least 2007, the MOIS coordinated a series of cyber operation against government entities and private organizations around the world. In January, USCYBERCOM officially linked the Iran-linked MuddyWater APT group (aka SeedWorm and TEMP.Zagros) to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

Iran Albania cyber attack

“Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is designating Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and its Minister of Intelligence for engaging in cyber-enabled activities against the United States and its allies.” reads the press release of the U.S. Treasury Department. “In July 2022, cyber threat actors assessed to be sponsored by the Government of Iran and MOIS disrupted Albanian government computer systems, forcing the government to suspend online public services for its citizens.”

“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 Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “We will not tolerate Iran’s increasingly aggressive cyber activities targeting the United States or our allies and partners.”  

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama this week announced that Albania interrupted diplomatic ties with Iran and expelled the country’s embassy staff over the massive cyber attack that hit the country in mid-July.

The cyberattack hit the servers of the National Agency for Information Society (AKSHI), which handles many government services. Most of the desk services for the population were interrupted, and only several important services, such as online tax filing, were working because they are provided by servers not targeted in the attack. Albania reported the attack to the NATO Member States and other allies.

According to a statement published by the government, the damages may be considered minimal compared to the goals of the threat actors.

The country’s Embassy staff was asked to leave Albany within 24 hours.

The United States government issued a statement condemning Iran for attacking Albania.

“The United States strongly condemns Iran’s cyberattack against our NATO Ally, Albania. We join in Prime Minister Rama’s call for Iran to be held accountable for this unprecedented cyber incident. The United States will take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a U.S. ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace.” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said. “We have concluded that the Government of Iran conducted this reckless and irresponsible cyberattack and that it is responsible for subsequent hack and leak operations.”

The relations between Albania and Iran have deteriorated since the government of Tirana offered asylum to thousands of Iranian dissidents.

NATO, and the U.K. also formally blamed the Iranian government for the cyberattacks against Albania.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Albania cyberattack)

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