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Hackers posing as friends are using phone numbers based in the UK to contact civil rights and political activists in Iran to gain access to their email and social media accounts, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned.
When the targets don’t recognize the “old friend,” hackers ask for a face-to-face conversation and ask the target to install a malware file titled “imo.APK” to use with the IMO chat program. After it’s installed on Android phones, the malware file allows hackers to take over the victim’s device.
Since the people who have been targeted are mainly activists and journalists, it raises the strong suspicion that the hackers are state-sponsored.
This is the first time the Campaign has recorded this specific type of attack, which has been increasingly used to gain access to Iranian users’ Gmail, Facebook and Telegram accounts in recent weeks.
Meanwhile hardline security organizations in Iran remain focused on monitoring content on Telegram, an instant messaging system and Iran’s most popular social media application.
On August 9 Colonel Hossein Ramazani, the legal affairs deputy of Iran’s Cyber Police Force known as FATA, announced the arrest of three administrators of four different channels on Telegram for “publishing material insulting religion and the immaculate Imams.”
On August 6, 2016 the Chairman of Iran’s Supreme Cyberspace Council, Abolhassan Firouzabadi, repeated a claim by other Iranian officials that Telegram had agreed to move its data servers to Iran—a claim that Telegram has always denied.
Iran’s Internet is censored and monitored by the government, and users who have posted criticism of the government online have been subjected to harsh prison sentences. Installing Telegram servers in Iran would seriously expose users’ personal information to state agencies and hackers, Iranian activists have warned.
Mohammad Hassan Entezari, a member of the Supreme Cyberspace Council, said on August 11, 2016 that over half of Iran’s Internet bandwidth is being used up by Telegram traffic. “Telegram usage has increased so much so that in our household, for instance, we have three Telegram users and we had to change our Internet subscription to unlimited,” said Entezari.