The Justice Department has charged three Iranian nationals for facilitating a global computer hacking campaign "that allegedly targeted hundreds of victims for extortion, including local U.S. governments, power companies, and a domestic violence shelter," NPR reports.
An indictment unsealed in New Jersey revealed that Mansour Ahmadi, Ahmad Khatibi, and Amir Hossein Nickaein have been executing the hacking conspiracy since October 2020. Their campaign targeted companies and government institutions in the United States, Britain, Israel, Russia, and Iran, NPR adds.
According to the indictment, the defendants took advantage of vulnerable network devices and software to steal data from their victims. They also allegedly encrypted the data on some of their victims' computers before demanding an exorbitant ransom to decrypt it. In other cases, they threatened to release the stolen information unless the victim paid them off.
The targets of the hacking campaign varied, and appeared to be "targets of opportunity," NPR reports. They include a Union County, New Jersey, municipality, and a domestic violence shelter in Pennsylvania.
U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Philip Sellinger highlighted a potential connection between the victims, saying, "A common feature of the victims was that they provided essential services — local government, housing power, a domestic violence shelter."
Justice Department officials say all of the defendants are believed to be in Iran and are not in U.S. custody at this time. Regardless, officials hope publicly naming the defendants will deter their hacking campaign.