US Charges Two Iranians with Cyber-based Electoral Interference

Security

The United States has charged two Iranian computer hackers in connection with a cyber-campaign intended to influence the outcome of America’s 2020 presidential election.

An indictment unsealed in New York on Thursday alleges that 24-year-old Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and 27-year-old Sajjad Kashian conspired with others to intimidate and influence American voters, undermine voter confidence, and create societal discord.

Starting in approximately August 2020, Kazemi, Kashian, and other co-conspirators allegedly began a four-pronged campaign that included sending threatening emails to voters, hacking into the computer networks of an American media company, and impersonating a far-right organization to cast doubt over the integrity of electoral ballots.

According to court documents, members of the conspiracy exploited a misconfiguration error to gain unauthorized access to one US state’s computer system and download data belonging to more than 100,000 voters. Attempts were allegedly made by the conspirators to compromise 11 state voter websites in total. 

In October, the conspirators allegedly posed as a “group of Proud Boys volunteers” to send Facebook messages and emails to Republican senators, Republican members of Congress, individuals associated with the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, White House advisors, and members of the media. 

The message contained claims that the Democratic Party was planning to exploit “serious security vulnerabilities” in state voter registration websites to “edit mail-in ballots or even register non-existent voters.”

It is alleged that the conspirators also impersonated the Proud Boys to send threatening messages to tens of thousands of voters. 

“The emails were sent to registered Democrats and threatened the recipients with physical injury if they did not change their party affiliation and vote for President Trump,” said the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs in a statement released Thursday. 

Kazemi and Kashian are both charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, intimidate voters, and transmit interstate threats, one count of voter intimidation, and one count of transmission of interstate threats.

Kazemi is additionally charged with one count of unauthorized computer intrusion and one count of computer fraud.

Both defendants worked as contractors for Iran-based cybersecurity company Emennet Pasargad, formerly known as Eeleyanet Gostar. Eeleyanet Gostar has provided services to the Iranian government.

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