As protests rage, Iranians hack activist and journalist critics, says rights groups

New York: Iranian government-backed hackers have targeted nearly two dozen high-profile activists, journalists, diplomats and others in recent months as part of an ongoing espionage effort, two human rights organizations said Monday.

According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who published the analysis, hackers gained access to victims’ emails, contacts and other data in three cases. The hackers also tried a Google Takeout, which allows users to download their entire Google account, including messages, cloud storage, and other sensitive information.

People wave an Iranian flag from before the Islamic revolution in London. As the protests go global, so does Iranian repression. Credit:AP

Iran’s foreign ministry did not respond to calls asking for comment late Monday evening in Tehran.

In recent months, human rights organizations have contacted 18 of the targets.

Investigators found that most received the same WhatsApp message that led victims to fake login pages, where hackers tried to steal their usernames, passwords, and authentication codes.


Victims included an unnamed U.S. newspaper correspondent and a women’s rights activist, the groups said.

The hackers’ attempts come amid widespread protests in Iran following the September death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by morality police for violating Iran’s strict dress code. Iranian authorities have tried to violently suppress demonstrations. The victims of the cyber espionage were not named.

“Iran’s state-backed hackers are aggressively using sophisticated social engineering and credential-gathering tactics to access sensitive information and contacts of Middle East-focused researchers and civil society groups,” said Abir Ghattas, director information security at Human Rights Watch, in the report.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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