The Trump administration announced criminal charges and sanctions Friday against nine Iranians accused in a government-sponsored hacking scheme to pilfer sensitive info from hundreds of universities, private firms, and US government agencies. The defendants, accused of working at the behest of the Iranian government-tied Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, hacked the computer systems of about 320 universities in the US and abroad to steal expensive science and engineering research that was then used or sold for profit, per prosecutors. The hackers also are accused of breaking into the networks of dozens of government groups, such as the Department of Labor and the UN, and companies such as law and biotechnology firms, the AP reports. Using spear-phishing emails, the hackers stole roughly 15 billion pages of academic research.
The department said the hackers were affiliated with an Iranian company called the Mabna Institute, which prosecutors say contracted since at least 2013 with the Iranian government to steal scientific research from other countries. The defendants are unlikely to ever be prosecuted in a US courtroom as there's no extradition treaty with Iran. But the grand jury indictment, filed in federal court in Manhattan, is part of the government's "name and shame" strategy to publicly identify foreign hackers, block them from traveling without risk of arrest, and put their countries on notice. "By bringing these criminal charges, we reinforce the norm that most of the civilized world accepts: nation-states should not steal intellectual property for the purpose of giving domestic industries an advantage," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in announcing the charges.