State-Sponsored Iranian Hackers Indicted for Computer Intrusions at U.S. Satellite Companies

An indictment was unsealed today charging three computer hackers, all of whom were residents and nationals of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran), with engaging in a coordinated campaign of identity theft and hacking on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, in order to steal critical information related to U.S. aerospace and satellite technology and resources.

“For the third time in three days, the Department has charged Iranian hackers,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “This case highlights the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ efforts to infiltrate the networks of American companies in search of valuable commercial information and intellectual property.  It is yet another effort by a rogue foreign nation to steal the fruits of this country’s hard work and expertise.”

“We will relentlessly pursue and expose those who seek to harm American companies and individuals wherever they reside in the world,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The use of malware, the theft of commercial data and intellectual property, and the use of social engineering to steal the identities of U.S. citizens to accomplish unlawful acts will not be tolerated. Along with our incredible and steadfast law enforcement partners, the Eastern District of Virginia continues to lead efforts to combat serious cybercrime globally and the charges outlined in the indictment exposing IRGC linked hacking operations in the United States are just another example of the fruits of our seamless teamwork.”

“Today’s charges are yet another example of the FBI’s dedication to investigating those who target and attempt to steal data and proprietary information from the U.S.,” said James A. Dawson, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Today’s charges allege that these individuals conspired in a coordinated campaign with known IRGC members and acted at their direction. The defendants targeted thousands of individuals in an attempt to steal critical information related to U.S. aerospace and satellite technology. The FBI remains dedicated to protecting the U.S., and we continue to impose risk and consequences on cyber adversaries through our unique authorities, world-class capabilities, and enduring partnerships.” 

As alleged in the indictment, the defendants’ hacking campaign, which targeted numerous companies and organizations in the United States and abroad, began in approximately July 2015 and continued until at least February 2019.  According to the indictment, the defendants at one time possessed a target list of over 1,800 online accounts, including accounts belonging to organizations and companies involved in aerospace or satellite technology and international government organizations in Australia, Israel, Singapore, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

To facilitate their victimization of these targets, the defendants engaged in a coordinated campaign of social engineering to identify real U.S. citizens working in the satellite and aerospace fields whose identities the defendants could assume online.  The defendants then impersonated those individuals and used their stolen identities to register email addresses and fraudulently purchase domains and hacking tools for use in the scheme.  The defendants then created customized spear phishing emails that purported to be from the individuals whose identities the defendants had stolen, in an attempt to entice the recipients to click on malicious links embedded in the emails.  Once a recipient clicked on a malicious link, malware would be downloaded to the individual’s computer, giving the defendants unauthorized access to the recipient’s computer and network.  The defendants then used additional hacking tools to maintain unauthorized access, escalate their privileges, and steal data sought by the IRGC.  Using these methods, the defendants successfully compromised multiple victim networks, resulting in the theft of sensitive commercial information, intellectual property, and personal data from victim companies, including a satellite-tracking company and a satellite voice and data communication company.

Charged in the indictment are defendants Said Pourkarim Arabi, 34, Mohammad Reza Espargham, age unknown, and Mohammad Bayati, 34.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has issued warrants for their arrest.

Arabi, who was a member of the IRGC, is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, obtaining information by unauthorized access to protected computers, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, intentional damage to protected computers, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  

Esphargham is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, obtaining information by unauthorized access to protected computers, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, intentional damage to protected computers, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

Bayati is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nathaniel Smith III, Jay V. Prabhu, and Danya Atiyeh, and Trial Attorney Evan Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting this case.

An indictment is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. GAO was asked to examine U.S. energy infrastructure resilience. This report describes: (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • Woman Charged in For-Profit Visa Fraud and Alien Smuggling Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Nevada woman was arrested today for her alleged role in a multi-year scheme to commit visa fraud and money laundering, and to illegally bring Chinese nationals into the United States for financial gain.
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  • Nine Charged with $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    The owner of a Florida talent management company and four others were charged in complaints unsealed yesterday for their alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $24 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Omani Foreign Minister Al-Busaidi 
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  • Justice Department Settles with Florida Towing Company it Alleges Illegally Sold or Scrapped Servicemembers’ Vehicles
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today reached an agreement with ASAP Towing & Storage Company (“ASAP”) in Jacksonville, Florida, to resolve allegations that ASAP violated a federal law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”), by auctioning off or otherwise disposing of cars owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining court orders. 
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  • Owner of Sport Supplement Company Sentenced for Unlawful Distribution of Steroid-Like Drugs
    In Crime News
    A North Carolina sport supplement company owner was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison after pleading guilty to introducing unapproved new drugs into interstate commerce, the Department of Justice announced.
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  • Former Police Officer and Gangster Disciples Member Sentenced to Prison
    In Crime News
    A former DeKalb County, Georgia, police officer and member of the Gangster Disciples was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release for racketeering conspiracy involving murder, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak of the Northern District of Georgia.
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  • DOD Acquisition Reform: Increased Focus on Knowledge Needed to Achieve Intended Performance and Innovation Outcomes
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As the Department of Defense (DOD) drives to deliver innovative capabilities faster to keep pace with evolving threats and emerging adversaries, knowledge—about programs' cost, schedule, and technology—increases the likelihood that these capabilities will be achieved. GAO annually assesses selected DOD weapon programs and their likely outcomes by analyzing: (1) the soundness of a program's business case—which provides evidence that the warfighter's needs are valid and the concept can be produced within existing resources—at program start, and (2) the knowledge a program attains at other key points in the acquisition process. For example, the Navy's Ford-class aircraft carrier program began with a weak business case, including an unrealistic cost estimate based on unproven technologies, resulting in over $2 billion in cost growth and years of delays to date for the lead ship. DOD's new acquisition framework uses six different acquisition pathways and offers programs a chance to tailor acquisition approaches, providing options to speed up the process. However, preliminary findings from GAO's 2021 annual assessment show that programs using the new middle-tier pathway face increasing risk that they will fall short of expected performance goals as a result of starting without sound business cases. While these programs are intended to be streamlined, business case information is critical for decision makers to know if a program is likely to meet its goals (see figure below). Completion of Key Business Case Documents by Selected Middle-tier Acquisition Programs The framework also introduces new considerations for program oversight and reporting. DOD has made some progress in developing its approach to oversight for programs using the new pathways, but questions remain about what metrics DOD will use for internal oversight and report to Congress for external oversight. Why GAO Did This Study DOD spends billions of dollars annually to acquire new major weapon systems, such as aircraft, ships, and satellites, and deliver them to the warfighter. GAO has reviewed individual weapon programs for many years and conducted its annual assessment of selected major DOD weapon programs for 19 years. GAO added DOD's weapon system acquisition process to its High-Risk List in 1990. This statement discusses: (1) the performance of selected DOD weapon programs and the role of a sound business case in that performance, (2) DOD's progress implementing recent acquisition reforms, (3) the status of DOD's actions to support innovation, and (4) DOD's efforts to improve data for acquisition oversight. This statement is drawn primarily from GAO's extensive body of work on DOD's acquisition of weapon systems, science and technology, and acquisition reforms conducted from 2004–2021, and observations from an ongoing annual review of selected DOD weapon programs. To perform this work, GAO reviewed DOD documentation, program information, and relevant legislation. GAO also interviewed DOD officials.
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    In Crime News
    Five local members of the violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) international street gang are set to appear in court following charges of conspiracy and murder in aid of racketeering, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas.
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  • Foreign Nationals Sentenced for Roles in Transnational Cybercrime Enterprise
    In Crime News
    Two foreign nationals — one Russian, the other North Macedonian national —were sentenced today for their role in the Infraud Organization, a transnational cybercrime enterprise engaged in the mass acquisition and sale of fraud-related goods and services, including stolen identities, compromised credit card data, computer malware, and other contraband.
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  • COVID-19: Federal Efforts Accelerate Vaccine and Therapeutic Development, but More Transparency Needed on Emergency Use Authorizations
    In U.S GAO News
    Through Operation Warp Speed—a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD)—the federal government is accelerating efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. A typical vaccine development process can take approximately 10 years or longer, but efforts under Operation Warp Speed seek to greatly accelerate this process by completing key steps simultaneously (see figure). As of October 15, 2020, Operation Warp Speed publicly announced financial support for the development or manufacturing of six COVID-19 vaccine candidates totaling more than $10 billion in obligations. It has also announced financial support for the development of therapeutics, such as a $450 million award to manufacture a monoclonal antibody treatment (a treatment that uses laboratory-made antibodies, which also may be able to serve as a prevention option). Operation Warp Speed Timeline for a Potential Vaccine Candidate Note: An Emergency Use Authorization allows for emergency use of medical products without FDA approval or licensure during a declared emergency, provided certain statutory criteria are met. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may temporarily allow the use of unlicensed or unapproved COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics through emergency use authorizations (EUA), provided there is evidence that the products may be effective and that known and potential benefits outweigh known and potential risks. For vaccines, FDA issued guidance in October 2020 to provide vaccine sponsors with recommendations regarding the evidence FDA needed to support issuance of an EUA. For therapeutics, FDA has issued four EUAs as of November 9, 2020. The evidence to support FDA's COVID-19 therapeutic authorization decisions has not always been transparent, in part because FDA does not uniformly disclose its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data for EUAs, as it does for approvals for new drugs and biologics. Given the gravity of the pandemic, it is important that FDA identify ways to uniformly disclose this information to the public. By doing so, FDA could help improve the transparency of, and ensure public trust in, its EUA decisions. The U.S. had about 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths as of November 12, 2020. Given this catastrophic loss of life as well as the pandemic's effects on the U.S. economy, effective and safe vaccines and therapeutics are more important than ever. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines, (1) efforts of Operation Warp Speed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic development; and (2) FDA's use of EUAs for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines, among other objectives. GAO reviewed federal laws and agency documents, including HHS and DOD information on vaccine and therapeutic development and EUAs as of November 2020. GAO interviewed or received written responses from HHS and DOD officials, and interviewed representatives from vaccine developers and manufacturers, as well as select public health stakeholders and provider groups covering a range of provider types. FDA should identify ways to uniformly disclose to the public the information from its scientific review of safety and effectiveness data when issuing EUAs for therapeutics and vaccines. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said it shared GAO's goal of transparency and would explore approaches to achieve this goal. For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or deniganmacauleym@gao.gov, or Alyssa M. Hundrup at (202) 512-7114 or hundrupa@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Files Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against Village of Hinsdale, Illinois Under Fair Housing Act
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the Village of Hinsdale, Illinois, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.  
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  • Judiciary Seeks 2022 Funding, Cites Caseload Resurgence and Security Needs
    In U.S Courts
    Federal Judiciary officials have asked Congress for $8.12 billion to fund judicial branch operations for fiscal year 2022. The request includes funding to keep pace with inflationary and other budget adjustments, and to pay for program increases, including projected workload changes, courthouse security, cybersecurity, and new magistrate judges.
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  • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks Announcing Lawsuit Against the State of Georgia to Stop Racially Discriminatory Provisions of New Voting Law
    In Crime News
    Good morning, I’m pleased to be joined by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke.
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  • Unaccompanied Children: Actions Needed to Improve Grant Application Reviews and Oversight of Care Facilities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) grant announcements soliciting care providers for unaccompanied children—those without lawful immigration status and without a parent or guardian in the U.S. available to provide care and physical custody for them—lack clarity about what state licensing information is required. Further, ORR does not systematically confirm the information submitted by applicants or document a review of their past performance on ORR grants, when applicable, according to GAO's analysis of ORR documents and interviews with ORR officials. The grant announcements do not specify how applicants without a state license should show license eligibility—a criterion for receiving an ORR grant—or specify what past licensing allegations and concerns they must report. In addition, the extent to which ORR staff verify applicants' licensing information is unclear. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR awarded grants to approximately 14 facilities that were unable to serve children for 12 or more months because they remained unlicensed. In addition, ORR did not provide any documentation that staff conducted a review of past performance for the nearly 70 percent of applicants that previously held ORR grants. Without addressing these issues, ORR risks awarding grants to organizations that cannot obtain a state license or that have a history of poor performance. State licensing agencies regularly monitor ORR-funded facilities, but according to GAO's survey of these agencies, their information sharing with ORR is limited (see figure). State licensing agencies and ORR staff both said that improved information sharing would benefit their monitoring of facilities. Without such improvements, ORR may lack information about ongoing issues at its facilities. Key Survey Responses on Information-Sharing with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) by the 23 State Agencies That Licensed ORR-Funded Facilities in Fall 2019 ORR requires grantees to take corrective action to address noncompliance it identifies through monitoring, but ORR has not met some of its monitoring goals or notified grantees of the need for corrective actions in a timely manner. For example, under ORR regulations, each facility is to be audited for compliance with standards to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and harassment of children by February 22, 2019, but by April 2020, only 67 of 133 facilities had been audited. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, ORR also did not meet its policy goals to visit each facility at least every 2 years, or to submit a report to facilities on any corrective actions identified within 30 days of a visit. Without further action, ORR will continue to not meet its own monitoring goals, which are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its care. ORR is responsible for the care and placement of unaccompanied children in its custody, which it provides through grants to state-licensed care provider facilities. ORR was appropriated $1.3 billion for this program in fiscal year 2020. GAO was asked to review ORR's grant making process and oversight of its grantees. This report examines (1) how ORR considers state licensing issues and past performance in its review of grant applications; (2) state licensing agencies' oversight of ORR grantees, and how ORR and states share information; and (3) how ORR addresses grantee noncompliance. GAO reviewed ORR grant announcements and applications for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. GAO conducted a survey of 29 state licensing agencies in states with ORR facilities, and reviewed ORR monitoring documentation and corrective action reports. GAO also reviewed ORR guidance and policies, as well as relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed ORR officials. GAO is making eight recommendations to ORR on improving clarity in its grant announcements, communication with state licensing agencies, and monitoring of its grantees. ORR agreed with all eight recommendations. For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or larink@gao.gov.
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  • Man Charged with COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A New York man was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed today for his alleged participation in a scheme to defraud multiple financial institutions by filing bank loan applications that fraudulently sought forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • U.S. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Travel Card Program FAQs
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