Iranians tried to hack state employees and researchers, Shin Bet says

Security agency says operatives contacted Israelis via LinkedIn and email, sent infected documents that would hand them control of targets’ computers

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

This handout photo, published by the Shin Bet security agency on July 30, 2023, shows messages on LinkedIn between alleged Iranian operatives and Israeli targets. (Shin Bet)
This handout photo, published by the Shin Bet security agency on July 30, 2023, shows messages on LinkedIn between alleged Iranian operatives and Israeli targets. (Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet security agency said Sunday it had uncovered an Iranian phishing campaign against Israeli civilians in recent months, mostly targeting state employees and researchers, in a bid to obtain intelligence on state policy.

According to the agency, Iranian operatives would contact Israeli targets on LinkedIn while posing as acquaintances, and the conversation would move to an email, where the operatives would either invite them to a conference by sending them a document with further details, or share a research paper.

Documents shared by the Iranian operatives, once opened, would grant the latter permission to the target’s computer, according to the agency, which said none of the phishing attempts was successful.

The Shin Bet said the initial messages with the Israelis were carefully written based on research the Iranian operatives had conducted into the various targets, with the subject matter being of specific interest to each target.

The agency said it managed to foil the attempts after many of the Israeli targets contacted the Shin Bet.

The Times of Israel’s military reporter received an email in early July from someone posing as a known Middle East analyst, offering to share an upcoming research piece. The message was promptly sent to the Shin Bet security agency for review.

“The Shin Bet, along with its partners in the intelligence community, are working to disrupt and thwart Iranian attempts to collect information on Israeli citizens, and calls on the public to be alert to the “phishing” phenomenon on the Internet,” the agency said.

In 2021, the Shin Bet said it had uncovered and foiled an attempt by Iranian operatives to lure Israeli academics, businesspeople and former defense officials abroad, in an effort to kidnap or otherwise harm them.

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