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US imposes new sanctions on Iran over Albania cyber attacks

The US has slapped new sanctions on Iran after Albania blamed Tehran, initiated by a July security breach, which it has denied.

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Mon, 12 Sep 2022
US imposes new sanctions on Iran over Albania cyber attacks
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New sanctions have been imposed on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security by the Biden administration over what the White House has called “malign cyber activities” as the two countries struggle to find a way back to work towards the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Albanian government has accused Iran of carrying out the 15 July attack, which temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites.

According to ABC News, Albania’s Interior Ministry was hit by a cyber attack at one of its border systems which came from the same Iranian source as an earlier attack that led the country to break diplomatic relations with Iran.

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The Albanian Interior Ministry stated that the previous evening, "an Albanian police transmitting system was found to be under a cyber attack similar to the one that (government portal) e-Albania suffered in July".

The statement further explained that the preliminary results show the attack was committed by the "same hand", adding that authorities temporarily closed down all the systems, including the Total Information Management System (TIMS), which records entries and exits at the border crossing.

At least two border crossings in the south reported long queues, according to local Albanian media.

The sanctions are in response to this latest security incident, as well as Iran's July cyber attack against Albania, which had disrupted government websites, according to the United States Department of the Treasury.

In a statement, Treasury official Brian Nelson has labelled Iran's actions "irresponsible state behaviour".

"We will not tolerate Iran’s increasingly aggressive cyber activities targeting the United States or our allies and partners.

"Iran’s cyber attack against Albania disregards norms of responsible peacetime state behaviour in cyber space, which includes a norm on refraining from damaging critical infrastructure that provides services to the public," Nelson said.

The July cyber attack has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Albania and Iran, which rejected the allegations it was responsible for the incident, stating it as "baseless".

The new sanctions on Iran, which were imposed by the US last Friday, targeted Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib, after Washington imposed penalties on several Iranian companies after accusing them of being involved in the production and transfer of drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine.

"The United States is committed to strictly enforcing our sanctions against both Russia and Iran and holding accountable Iran and those supporting Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine," Nelson said.

The sanctions are set to freeze the assets of the targeted individuals and entities in the US and make it illegal for American citizens to do business with them.

According to Al Jazeera, NATO member Albania had cut diplomatic ties with Iran and expelled its embassy staff this week.

This is the first known case of a country cutting diplomatic relations over a cyber attack.

"Another cyber attack from the same aggressors already exposed and denounced by Albania's allies and friendly countries, was seen last evening on the TIMS system," Nelson said.

Since former President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, the US government has been piling sanctions on Iran.

The multilateral pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had seen Iran scale back its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions against its economy.

The restoration of the agreement appeared imminent last month after the European Union submitted a draft deal dubbed a "final text".

After Tehran and Washington exchanged comments on the proposal, US officials rejected the latest Iranian response earlier this month as "not constructive". In turn, according to Al Jazeera, Iran stressed that its reply was reasonable and "transparent".

[Related: Stolen NATO documents surface on dark web]

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