Iranian cyberspies have apparently for years been extracting information from American lawmakers, ambassadors, and even a four-star Navy admiral… by friending them on Facebook.
Cybersecurity company iSight Partners discovered the security threat and on Wednesday released a report on it. The organization claims that spies have since 2011 targeted "at least 2,000 people" and that targets include "senior U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, congressional personnel, Washington D.C. area journalists, U.S. think tanks, defense contractors in the U.S. and Israel" and "additional victims in the U.K. as well as Saudi Arabia and Iraq were targeted."
As part of this intelligence-gathering campaign, dubbed "Newscaster" by iSight, Iranian operatives created profiles on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. They posed as "young, attractive women" according to Bloomberg. The Iranians would build trust by sending their targets links to a non-malicious but fake news site called "NewsOnAir.org." Then, "as the ruse went on, they would send their targets links to, for instance, a YouTube video of a weapons system," explains The Washington Post. "When the target clicked on the link, he would be redirected to a spoof page — maybe a Gmail log-in or company e-mail log-in page — designed to steal his log-in and password information." This is called "phishing," and it's one of the oldest tricks in the book of scamming people out of sensitive information on the web.
"Specific defense technology as well as military and diplomatic information" is likely the target of this campaign," states iSight, but exactly what was taken and how much of it is unknown. The company hasn't named any of the targets.
Facebook has already taken down the fake profiles and LinkedIn is investigating the ones on their own site.
"This attack is decently technical, but most of it is cleverness and time," Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council's cyber statecraft initiative told Bloomberg. "Iran believes they are facing dangerous attacks by Israel, dangerous attacks by the U.S., and they know they have to come up with some clever stuff."
Perhaps it's a privilege of authority to have to worry about friend requests from femme fatales compromising international security, but it's a problem that these officials could have avoided simply by not connecting with complete strangers on the Internet.