Microsoft alleges assaults on French mag got here from Iranian-backed crew


Microsoft alleges attacks on French magazine came from Iranian-backed group

Microsoft mentioned on Friday that an Iranian geographical region crew already sanctioned by way of the United States govt was once at the back of an assault closing month that centered the satirical French mag Charlie Hebdo and 1000’s of its readers.

The assault got here to gentle on January 4, when a prior to now unknown crew calling itself Holy Souls took to the Web to say it had bought a Charlie Hebdo database that contained private knowledge for 230,000 of its consumers. The submit mentioned the database was once to be had on the market at the cost of 20 BTC, or more or less $340,000 on the time. The crowd additionally launched a pattern of the knowledge that incorporated the total names, phone numbers, and residential and e mail addresses of people that had subscribed to, or bought products from, the e-newsletter. French media showed the veracity of the leaked information.

The discharge of the pattern put the purchasers prone to on-line concentrated on or bodily violence by way of extremist teams, that have retaliated towards Charlie Hebdo in recent times for its satirical remedy of issues touching on the Muslim faith and Islamic international locations corresponding to Iran. The retaliation incorporated the 2015 taking pictures by way of two French Muslim terrorists and brothers at Charlie Hebdo workplaces that killed 12 and injured 11 others. To additional gin up consideration to the breached information, a flurry of pretend personas—one falsely claiming to be a Charlie Hebdo editor—took to social media to speak about and publicize the leak.

Twitter post purporting to come from impersonating a Charlie Hebdo editor.
Amplify / Twitter submit purporting to come back from impersonating a Charlie Hebdo editor.


On Friday, Clint Watts, the overall supervisor of Microsoft’s Virtual Danger Research Middle, wrote:

We consider this assault is a reaction by way of the Iranian govt to a caricature contest carried out by way of Charlie Hebdo. One month ahead of Holy Souls carried out its assault, the mag introduced it will be protecting a global festival for cartoons “ridiculing” Iranian Preferrred Chief Ali Khamenei. The problem that includes the successful cartoons was once to be printed in early January, timed to coincide with the 8th anniversary of an assault by way of two al-Qa’ida within the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)-inspired assailants at the mag’s workplaces.

The techniques, ways, and procedures of the affect marketing campaign led Microsoft researchers to conclude it was once the paintings of Emennet Pasargad, an Iranian crew that has lengthy been monitored and centered by way of the United States govt. The FBI mentioned in January 2022 that Emennet Pasargad was once at the back of “a multi-faceted marketing campaign to intrude within the 2020 US presidential election.”

Individuals within the operation bought confidential US voter knowledge from no less than one state election site, despatched threatening emails designed to intimidate citizens, and printed a video airing disinformation regarding non-existent vote casting vulnerabilities. The crowd additionally claimed association with the neo-fascist crew Proud Boys to additional intimidate citizens.

Ultimate October, the FBI mentioned that Emennet Pasargad centered teams in Israel with “cyber-enabled knowledge operations that incorporated an preliminary intrusion, robbery, and next leak of information, adopted by way of amplification via social media and on-line boards, and in some instances the deployment of harmful encryption malware.”

The United States Treasury in 2021 positioned sanctions on Emennet Pasargad and 6 Iranian nationals who’re participants, mentioning their makes an attempt “to sow discord and undermine citizens’ religion in the United States electoral procedure.”

Friday’s submit mentioned Microsoft had “top self belief” that the gang, which the corporate refers to as Neptunium, was once at the back of the Charlie Hebdo affect marketing campaign. The overview was once in line with components together with:

  • A hacktivist personality claiming credit score for the cyberattack
  • Claims of a a hit site defacement
  • Leaking of personal information on-line
  • Using inauthentic social media “sockpuppet” personas—social media accounts the use of fictitious or stolen identities to obfuscate the account’s actual proprietor for the aim of deception—claiming to be from the rustic that the hack centered to advertise the cyberattack the use of language with mistakes glaring to local audio system
  • Impersonation of authoritative assets
  • Contacting information meida organizations
Attribution matrix Microsoft used to arrive at its assessment.
Amplify / Attribution matrix Microsoft used to reach at its overview.


Microsoft mentioned the January marketing campaign used French-language sockpuppet social media accounts, many with low follower counts, to enlarge the leak and “distribute adverse messaging.” The accounts additionally posted criticisms of the caricature festival aimed toward Khamenei.

“Crucially, ahead of there have been any considerable reporting at the purported cyberattack, those accounts posted similar screenshots of a defaced site that incorporated the French-language message: ‘Charlie Hebdo a été piraté’ (‘Charlie Hebdo was once hacked’),” Watts wrote.

In a while after that, no less than two social media accounts—one purporting to belong to a tech govt and the opposite to a Charlie Hebdo editor—posted screenshots of the leaked buyer information.

The marketing campaign Microsoft has documented is the newest reminder that social media is continuously manipulated by way of particular hobby teams—some with deep wallet. Other folks would do neatly to bear in mind this manipulation and watch out to make sure claims ahead of spreading them additional.



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