Online Campaign To Influence Presidential Elections - Iranians Charged

An indictment has been released by the US Dept. of Justice charging two Iranian nationals for their involvement in a cyber-enabled campaign to intimidate and influence American voters in the 2020 US presidential election.

According to court documents, Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27,  obtained confidential US voter information from at least one state election website. They then sent threatening email messages to intimidate and interfere with voters, created and distributed a video containing disinformation about purported election infrastructure vulnerabilities. 

They attempted to access, without authorisation, several states’ voting-related websites; and successfully gained unauthorised access to a US media company’s computer network. This would have been successful had it not been for the FBI and victim company efforts to mitigate, would have provided the conspirators another vehicle to disseminate false claims after the election. “This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. 

The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public.  “As alleged, Kazemi and Kashian were part of a coordinated conspiracy in which Iranian hackers sought to undermine faith and confidence in the US presidential election,” said US Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. 

“The United States will never tolerate any foreign actors’ attempts to undermine our free and democratic elections. As a result of the charges unsealed today, and the concurrent efforts of our US government partners, Kazemi and Kashian will forever look over their shoulders as we strive to bring them to justice... ” said Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran of the FBI’s Cyber Division. 

Working rapidly with the private sector and other US government partners and ahead of the election, the FBI were able to disrupt and mitigate this criminal activity by foreign agents,

The accused are alleged to have been part of a group that led the disinformation campaign between August and November 2020. Members of the group reportedly attempted to compromise approximately 11 state voter websites, including state voter registration websites and state voter information websites.

  • Those efforts resulted in the successful exploitation of a misconfigured computer system of an unnamed US state and the resulting unauthorised downloading of information concerning more than 100,000 of this state’s voters.
  • The group also posed as far-right group ‘Proud Boys’ on Facebook  and sent messages to officials associated with Donald Trump’s campaign and the media, claiming 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”.

The US State Department is offering a reward of up to $10 million "for information on or about the activities of" Kazemi and Kashian. 

US Justice Dept:    Reuters:      The HIll:      CNN:       Portswigger:      Meritalk

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