US imposes sanctions on Iran over cyber activities, cyberattack on Albania

The move comes after Albania severed diplomatic relations with Iran on Wednesday for the same incident, ordering Iranian diplomats and embassy staff to leave within 24 hours.

 Personnel of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be seen through a closed door, as Albania cuts ties with Iran and orders diplomats to leave over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, September 7, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/FLORION GOGA)
Personnel of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be seen through a closed door, as Albania cuts ties with Iran and orders diplomats to leave over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, September 7, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/FLORION GOGA)

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and its minister, accusing them of being tied to a disruptive July cyberattack on Albania and engaging in other cyber activities against the United States and its allies.

The move comes after Albania severed diplomatic relations with Iran on Wednesday for the same incident, ordering Iranian diplomats and embassy staff to leave within 24 hours.

The US Treasury Department in a statement said the Ministry of Intelligence and Security directs several networks of cyber threat actors, including those involved in cyber espionage and ransomware attacks in support of the Iranian government.

The ministry was already designated under US sanctions. Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Investigation of the incident

Microsoft, whose cybersecurity research team investigated the incident, said in a blog post on Thursday that the Iranian cyber operation involved a combination of digital espionage techniques, data wiping malware and online information operations. The goal of the hackers, according to researchers, appeared to be to embarrass Albanian government officials.

Police stand guard during an anti-government protest in front of the Parliament in Tirana, Albania May 25, 2019 (credit: REUTERS/FLORION GOGA)Police stand guard during an anti-government protest in front of the Parliament in Tirana, Albania May 25, 2019 (credit: REUTERS/FLORION GOGA)

The July attacks temporarily disrupted government websites and other public services. Analysts say the operation was intended to punish Albania for supporting an Iranian dissident group based in the country, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).