US sanctions Iran over cyber attack on Albania

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The Biden administration released a second wave of economic sanctions against Iran in as many days on Friday, this time over Iran’s alleged recent cyberattack on Albania.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has targeted Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the country’s intelligence minister, Esmail Khatib, with the latest economic sanctions.

“Iran’s cyberattack on Albania ignores the standards of responsible state behavior in peacetime in cyberspace, including a standard of not damaging critical infrastructure that provides services to the public,” said Brian Nelson, the Treasury’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Security. financial information, in a statement. “We will not tolerate Iran’s increasingly aggressive cyber activities targeting the United States or our allies and partners.”

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Albania cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Wednesday, giving its diplomats 24 hours to leave the country in response to the July cyberattack, which involved a hack-and-leak operation and temporarily disrupted government online services.

Prime Minister Edi Rama convicted the attack, saying his government had “undeniable evidence” that Iranian state actors were behind it. Iran’s foreign ministry rejected the accusation and denounced Tirana’s decision to sever ties.

The July 15 attack took place ahead of a planned conference of the Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian militant party in exile that moved to Albania in 2016 with US funding. Tehran considers the MEK, which critics have described as a Marxist-Islamic sect, a terrorist organization.

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The White House yesterday offered strong support to NATO ally Albania, warning of the fallout from what it called the “disturbing precedent” of Iran’s attack on cyberspace.

The Biden administration said US officials who worked with colleagues in Albania for several weeks also determined Iranian state actors were responsible for the attack.

Why it matters: All of this is taking place against the backdrop of indirect negotiations between the US and Iran over a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which would mean caps on Tehran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for broad sanctions relief.

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Talks appear to have stalled again, although national security spokesman John Kirby suggested yesterday that channels remain open and active.

Iran has repeatedly attacked US allies and partner countries in the Middle East and beyond, both with more conventional military weapons such as missiles and drones, as well as cyber-attacks.

Yesterday, the United States sanctioned entities said to be behind Iran’s recent transfer of military drones to Russia for likely use in Ukraine.

Knowing more: Read Jared Szuba’s report on the Pentagon’s revelation earlier year that Iranian intelligence was behind the MuddyWaters hacking group that targeted both the United States and its partners in the Middle East.

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