U.S. Charges Iranian Hacker, Offers $10 Million Reward for Capture


Mar 02, 2024NewsroomCybercrime / Social Engineering

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) on Friday unsealed an indictment against an Iranian national for his alleged involvement in a multi-year cyber-enabled campaign designed to compromise U.S. governmental and private entities.

More than a dozen entities are said to have been targeted, including the U.S. Departments of the Treasury and State, defense contractors that support U.S. Department of Defense programs, and an accounting firm and a hospitality company, both based in New York.

Alireza Shafie Nasab, 39, claimed to be a cybersecurity specialist for a company named Mahak Rayan Afraz while participating in a persistent campaign targeting the U.S. from at least in or about 2016 through or about April 2021.

“As alleged, Alireza Shafie Nasab participated in a cyber campaign using spear-phishing and other hacking techniques to infect more than 200,000 victim devices, many of which contained sensitive or classified defense information,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York.

The spear-phishing campaigns were managed via a custom application that made it possible for Nasab and his co-conspirators to organize and deploy their attacks.


In one instance, the threat actors breached an administrator email account belonging to an unnamed defense contractor, subsequently leveraging the access to create rogue accounts and send out spear-phishing emails to employees of a different defense contractor and a consulting firm.

Outside of spear-phishing attacks, the conspirators have masqueraded as other people, typically women, to obtain the confidence of victims and deploy malware onto victim computers.

Nasab, while working for the front company, is believed to be responsible for procuring infrastructure utilized in the campaign by using the stolen identity of a real person in order to register a server and email accounts.

He has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. If convicted on all counts, Nasab could face up to 47 years in prison.

While Nasab remains at large, the U.S. State Department has announced monetary rewards of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of Nasab.

Mahak Rayan Afraz (MRA) was first outed by Meta in July 2021 as a Tehran-based firm with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s armed force charged with defending the country’s revolutionary regime.

The activity cluster, which also overlaps with Tortoiseshell, has been previously linked to elaborate social engineering campaigns, including posing as an aerobics instructor on Facebook in an attempt to infect the machine of an employee of an aerospace defense contractor with malware.


The development comes as German law enforcement announced the takedown of Crimemarket, a German-speaking illicit trading platform with over 180,000 users that specialized in the sale of narcotics, weapons, money laundering, and other criminal services.

Six people have been arrested in connection with the operation, counting a 23-year-old considered the main suspect, with authorities also seizing mobile phones, IT equipment, one kilogram of marijuana, ecstasy tablets, and €600,000 in cash.

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