On March 24, 2016, the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") announced the unsealing of an Indictment in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ("SDNY") naming seven individual defendants who allegedly served as hackers in the employ of ITSec Team and Mersad Company, which were computer security companies working on behalf of the Iranian government (including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). United States of America v. Ahmad Fathi, Hamid Firoozi, Amin Shokohi, Sadegh Ahmadzadegan, a/k/a/ "Nitr0jen26,"; Omid Ghaffarinia, a/k/a "PLuS," Sina Keissar, and Nader Saedi, a/k/a "Turk Server" (Indictment, SDNY, 16-CR-48, March 23, 2016).
SIDE BAR: READ the FULL -TEXT Indictment, posted online at BrokeAndBroker.com. The synopses in the press do not do this document justice. It is an unsettling and scary reminder of how vulnerable we are in the cyberworld. The fact remains that it's not that difficult for someone with a will to find a way to defeat the best attempts to erect an online wall between the good guys and the bad guys -- which raises yet another provocative question as to how we discern the good from the bad these days.Case In Point Defendants Fathi; Firoozi; and Shokohi are allocated to a grouping called "ITSec Team" and Defendants Ahmadzadegan, Ghaffarinnia; Keissar; and Saedi, to a grouping called "Mersad". The Indictment asserts two counts of Conspiracy to Commit Computer Hacking (one each for the ITSec Team and Mersad groups of Defendants) and one count of Unauthorized Access to a Protected Computer (Defendant Firoozi). NOTE: An Indictment merely contains allegations and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt. Financial Industry Cyberattacks The Indictment charges that between 2011 and mid-2013, the Defendants conspired among themselves and with others to engage in Distributed Denial of Service ("DD0S") cyberattacks against the United States financial industry. As set forth in Paragraph 8 of the Indictment:
8. After they began in approximately December 2011, the U.S. Financial Industry DDoS Attacks occurred on a sporadic basis until September 2012, when they escalated in frequency and occurred on a near-weekly basis and typically between Tuesdays and Thursdays during normal business hours in the United States, through in or about May 2013. During the course of this coordinated campaign, victims' computer servers were hit with as much as approximately 140 Gigabits of data per second which, depending on the victim institution was up to as much as three times the entire operating capacity of a victim institution's servers. The U.S. Financial Industry DDoS Attacks impacted, at a minimum, approximately 46 major financial institutions and other financial-sector corporations in the United States over a total of at least approximately 176 days of DDoS attacks. On certain days during these attacks, hundreds of thousands of customers were unable to access their bank accounts online. As a result of these attacks, those victim institutions incurred tens of millions of dollars I remediation costs as they worked to mitigate and neutralize the attacks on their computer servers.Opening the Floodgates? In addition to the attacks against the financial institutions, the Indictment alleges that during August and September 2013, Defendant Firoozi illegally obtained access to the supervisory control and data acquisition system of the Bowman Dam in Rye, New York. Although the dam was undergoing maintenance and offline from the data acquisition system at the time of the intrusion, Defendant Firoozi allegedly would have otherwise had the ability to control water levels and flow rates, thus posing a danger to the public's health and safety. Prison Time Each count of Conspiracy to Commit Computer Hacking carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The sole count of Unauthorized Access to a Protected Computer carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. Powerful Message? In commenting on the Indictment, Attorney General Loretta Lynch noted, among other points:
In unsealing this indictment, the Department of Justice is sending a powerful message: that we will not allow any individual, group, or nation to sabotage American financial institutions or undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market. Through the work of our National Security Division, the FBI, and U.S. Attorney's Offices around the country, we will continue to pursue national security cyber threats through the use of all available tools, including public criminal charges. And as today's unsealing makes clear, individuals who engage in computer hacking will be exposed for their criminal conduct and sought for apprehension and prosecution in an American court of law."Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks at Press Conference Announcing Seven Iranians Charged for Conducting Cyber Attacks against U.S. Financial Sector" (DOJ Press Release, March 24, 2016). Bill Singer's Comment I guess the Attorney General and I have a different sense of what constitutes a "powerful message." Frankly, I'm still awaiting the powerful message from DOJ in the form of many Indictments naming the individual men and women at the too-big-to-fail-banks and other marketplace participants for their role in the mortgage fraud and financial shenanigans that sabotaged and undermined our economy in the form of the Great Recession. Now wouldn't that be one helluva powerful message! Taking her at her words, Attorney General Lynch asserts that the United States government has demonstrated we will not allow any individual, group, or nation to sabotage American financial institutions or undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market. Please correct me if I am misstating the case here but doesn't the very existence of the Indictment prove the opposite? Given the cyberattackers apparent successes, didn't they demonstrate that the USA does not prevent the sabotage of our financial institutions and the undermining of the markets's integrity? Isn't the unsealing of the Indictment and the attendant press conference hoopla all little more than reading toe tags in the morgue and arguing that such a post-mortem exercise is a pre-emptive measure to prevent murder? Then there is the Attorney General's contention individuals who engage in computer hacking will be exposed for their criminal conduct and sought for apprehension and prosecution in an American court of law. Okay, sure, the Indictment exposed the Defendants. Great. You get your brownie points for that. On the other hand, what are we to make of the fact that the Defendants are being sought for apprehension and prosecution in an American court of law? "Sought" as in not currently under arrest, not currently in the process of extradition from Iran to the USA, not currently in jail, not currently arraigned. Perhaps the Attorney General is mindful of her boss's January 17, 2016, remarks about the great diplomatic achievement of the so-called Iran nuclear deal:
THE PRESIDENT: This is a good day, because, once again, we're seeing what's possible with strong American diplomacy. [F]or decades, our differences with Iran meant that our governments almost never spoke to each other. Ultimately, that did not advance America's interests . . . We've seen the results. Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb. The region, the United States, and the world will be more secure. As I've said many times, the nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all of our differences with Iran. But still, engaging directly with the Iranian government on a sustained basis, for the first time in decades, has created a unique opportunity -- a window -- to try to resolve important issues. And today, I can report progress on a number of fronts. . . . Now that Iran's actions have been verified, it can begin to receive relief from certain nuclear sanctions and gain access to its own money that had been frozen. And perhaps most important of all, we've achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East. . . . Of course, even as we implement the nuclear deal and welcome our Americans home, we recognize that there remain profound differences between the United States and Iran. We remain steadfast in opposing Iran's destabilizing behavior elsewhere, including its threats against Israel and our Gulf partners, and its support for violent proxies in places like Syria and Yemen. We still have sanctions on Iran for its violations of human rights, for its support of terrorism, and for its ballistic missile program. And we will continue to enforce these sanctions, vigorously. Iran's recent missile test, for example, was a violation of its international obligations. And as a result, the United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran's ballistic missile program. And we are going to remain vigilant about it. We're not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners. But I do want to once again speak directly to the Iranian people. Yours is a great civilization, with a vibrant culture that has so much to contribute to the world -- in commerce, and in science and the arts. For decades, your government's threats and actions to destabilize your region have isolated Iran from much of the world. And now our governments are talking with one another. Following the nuclear deal, you -- especially young Iranians -- have the opportunity to begin building new ties with the world. We have a rare chance to pursue a new path -- a different, better future that delivers progress for both our peoples and the wider world. That's the opportunity before the Iranian people. We need to take advantage of that . . ."Statement by the President on Iran" (Press Release, The White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 17, 2016) Given that the Indictment alleges that the cyberattacks took place in 2011, 2012, and 2013, I'm guessing that the US government knew about some of the criminal activity while negotiating that nuclear deal with Iran. It would be difficult to imagine that the "sealed" version of the Indictment wasn't either in a final draft form or signed off on by the Grand Jury when President Obama announced the historic deal with Iran on January 17, 2016. All of which leads us to the Attorney General's assertion that the Indictment has essentially made it clear that individuals who engage in computer hacking will be exposed for their criminal conduct and sought for apprehension and prosecution in an American court of law. Okay, sure, I'll give her some of that but given that the Defendants are still being "sought" for apprehension and prosecution, that strongly suggests that they have not yet been apprehended. According to President Obama's January 17, 2016, speech, that was a "good day" for American diplomacy because we reached a nuclear deal with Iran and, as a result, "for the first time in decades, has created a unique opportunity -- a window -- to try to resolve important issues." Maybe the Attorney General can open that window and then lean through it and ask our Iranian pals if they will extradite the 7 Iranian criminal defendants back to the USA? As President Obama noted, "We still have sanctions on Iran for its violations of human rights, for its support of terrorism, and for its ballistic missile program." And it's not like our position on those violations is questionable because, after all, the President assured us that "we are going to remain vigilant about it. We're not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners."
[O]ur governments are talking with one another. Following the nuclear deal, you -- especially young Iranians -- have the opportunity to begin building new ties with the world. We have a rare chance to pursue a new path -- a different, better future that delivers progress for both our peoples and the wider world. That's the opportunity before the Iranian people. We need to take advantage of that . . .On behalf of all my fellow Americans, I'd like to reiterate our President's lofty words and remind all my new young Iranian friends that by sending us the 7 defendants, you can build new ties with the world and embark upon a new path to a better future. This extradition is one hell of an opportunity for you Iranian youngsters. You should take advantage of it. We'd really like to apprehend and prosecute those folks. I'm not suggesting that the Indictment is a hollow gesture and public relations ploy because, after all, it's got lots of facts and names and dates in it and someone went to a lot of trouble to print it out and get it sealed and then unsealed. As such, you Iranian youth don't want to be fooling around in the face of such a powerful message, do you?