Iran hacked Charlie Hebdo and stole subscribers’ info, says Microsoft
Iran’s hardline Islamist government was behind the hacking of 230,000 people’s personal data from French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Microsoft has claimed.
Cyber security researchers from the US tech company said they had identified the Iranians after spotting an online group calling itself “Holy Souls” sharing details that could only have come from the stolen information.
Social media posts made by the hackers on 4 January included snippets of Charlie Hebdo subscribers' personal data, a month after the magazine ran a contest for cartoons satirising Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
The ayatollah is the head of Islam within Iran as well as being head of state.
Microsoft warned that Iran’s procurement of the personal data could put the magazine’s subscribers at risk of online or physical targeting by extremist organisations.
Clint Watts, a manager at Microsoft’s digital threat intelligence centre, added: “We believe this attack is a response by the Iranian government to a cartoon contest conducted by Charlie Hebdo.
“The use of such sockpuppet accounts has been observed in other Iran-linked operations.”
Around 230,000 subscribers’ details are said to have been stolen in the cyber attack. Included were Charlie Hebdo subscribers’ names, home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and some types of financial information.
Alan Woodward, a computery security professor at the University of Surrey, said: “Charlie Hebdo subscribers might very well be concerned that they have potentially been identified to religious extremists. It’s a sad reminder that in the modern world there is more than one way to spread terror.
“The suggestion that an extremist regime like Iran might be involved is disturbing.”
Messages posted by the Iranians to a cyber crime internet forum, seen by the Telegraph, appeared to show copies of invoices sent to Charlie Hebdo’s subscribers detailing exactly which issues of the magazine they had bought.
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine in France that hit international headlines after an Islamist terror attack on its staff in 2015.
Extremist gunmen broke into the publisher’s Paris offices and murdered twelve journalists and cartoonists, including editor Stephane Charbonnier.
Witnesses recalled hearing the murderers shouting “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed” and “Allahu akhbar” while calling out the names of their victims.
French police later cornered the gunmen and killed them both in a shoot-out.
In the years prior to the murders, Charlie Hebdo had published several satirical cartoons of the prophet as well as mocking other religions including Christianity and Judaism.
Making drawings of the Prophet Mohammed are forbidden under Islamic sharia law.
Iran is stepping up cyber activity against the West, with GCHQ branch the National Cyber Security Centre warning that state-sponsored hackers are targeting the UK to try and steal information about foreign policy.
Paul Chichester, the NCSC’s director of operations, said in January: “These campaigns... continue to ruthlessly pursue their targets in an attempt to steal online credentials and compromise potentially sensitive systems.”
Western officials have stopped short of designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organisation over fears doing so would cut off vital diplomatic back-channels with Iran's theocratic government.