U.S. computing giant Microsoft said on Friday it had determined that Iranian state actors were behind a recent cyberattack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Clint Watts, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center, said the hacker, who called himself “Holy Spirit,” was Iranian cybersecurity firm Emennet Pasargad.
In early January, Holy Souls announced that they had obtained the personal information of more than 200,000 Charlie Hebdo customers and released data samples as evidence.
Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a special edition commemorating the 2015 attacks on his Paris offices that killed 12 people.
Iran issues formal warning to France over “insulting and obscene” cartoons.
Emennet Pasargad was the employer of two Iranians, Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian, who were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2021.
They allegedly ran an online campaign “to intimidate, influence, and otherwise undermine voter confidence and sow discord” during the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Kazemi and Kashian allegedly obtained confidential voter information and sent threatening emails, posted false information to influence Democratic and Republican voters, and attempted to hack into state voting-related websites, the department said.
The Charlie Hebdo hacker, dubbed “Neptunium” by Microsoft, is selling the stolen subscriber database online for 20 bitcoins, currently worth about $460,000 (nearly Rs 3.8 lakh), Microsoft said.
“Regardless of what one thinks about Charlie Hebdo’s editorial choices, the disclosure of personally identifiable information of tens of thousands of its customers poses a serious threat,” Microsoft said.