TEHRAN, Iran— The Islamic Republic, in coordination with the state telecommunication company and the revolutionary guard, has organized a special unit whose job is to hack into various servers in order to interrupt or redirect internet traffic. According to sources familiar with the unit’s mission, the new cyber intelligence unit is also tasked with spying on dissident groups in Iran and abroad.
The hackers go by the name, “Cyber Army”. They claimed responsibility for hacking into the Voice of America website. The hackers placed an Iranian flag, an AK-47 assault weapon, and a message written in cryptic English addressed to the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The message read “Mrs. Clinton, Do you want to hear the voice of the oppressed nations? The Islamic nations would no more be tricked by the US, and we want you to stop interfering in the Islamic countries.”
According to PBS.org’s Tehran Bureau, the Iranian hackers affiliated with the Islamic Republic have in the past attacked 94 other Voice of America affiliated websites. The Islamic Republic’s cyber spies are known to have hacked into Twitter and the Chinese search engine Baidu.
The members of the Cyber Army are chosen by the Iranian government from among the country’s best hackers. When government identifies a high profile hacker, they contact the hacker with a choice to either join the government or face imprisonment. Many of Iran’s young hackers readily accept the government’s offer of employment as way to avoid detention.
The members of the Cyber Army frequently hack into social networking sites to steal personal information they subsequently use to identify anti-government supporters. On one Iranian social networking site similar to Facebook, the members of the Cyber Army frequently engage the site’s users in conversations designed to gauge their level of loyalty to Iran’s cleric led government.
Rooz Online reports the Islamic Republic’s cyber intelligence unit is active in spreading Islamic propaganda and has created up to 25000 fictitious accounts on Facebook with names and pictures of made up users.
According to Rooz Online, the cyber intelligence unit is housed in a five story building and is composed of 20 units, including administrative and media support sections.
According to cyber security expert Jeffrey Carr, the Iranian hackers should not be dismissed as amateurish. Carr says "this type of an attack actually can be quite serious because if [hackers] have DNS access, they can collect your mail. They essentially can own your entire online presence.”