Rod Rosenstein

Statement Announcing Iran Hacking Indictment

delivered 23 March 2018

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Good morning. For many decades, the United States has led the world in science, technology, research, and development. Hostile individuals, organizations, and nation states have taken note of our success. They increasingly attempt to profit from Americans' ingenuity by infiltrating our computer systems, stealing our intellectual property, and evading our controls on technology exports.

When hackers gain unlawful access to computers, it can take them only a few minutes to steal discoveries that were produced by many years of work and many millions of dollars of investment. That type of activity does not just cause economic harm. It also threatens America’s national security. Identifying and prosecuting computer hackers is a top priority of the Department of Justice.

We're here today to announce that a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York indicted nine Iranians for conspiring to hack into computers and to defraud American and foreign universities, businesses, and government agencies. I want to caution you that an indictment is not a finding of guilt. In the American judicial system, defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.

This indictment alleges that the defendants worked on behalf of the Iranian government, specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They hacked the computer systems of approximately 120 universities -- pardon me, approximately 320 universities in 22 countries. 144 of the university victims are American universities. The defendants stole research that cost those universities approximately 3.4 billion dollars to procure and maintain. That stolen information was used by the Revolutionary Guard, or sold for profit in Iran.

The defendants worked for an organization known as the Mabna Institute, which two of the defendants founded for the stated purpose of helping Iranian universities access scientific research. Their work consisted of stealing research through illegal computer intrusions. The indictment charges nine defendants for committing seven federal crimes. The charges include computer fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and identity theft.

I want to make two additional points before I turn the microphone over to United States Attorney Jeffrey Berman, who will provide more details about the allegations and the defendants.

First, every sector of our economy is the target of malicious cyber attacks. Everyone who owns a computer needs to be vigilant to prevent attacks. Academic institutions are prime targets for foreign cyber criminals. Universities can thrive as marketplaces of ideas and engines of research and development only if their work is protected from theft. Now, the events described in this indictment highlight the need for universities and all other organizations to emphasize cyber security, increased threat awareness, and harden their computer networks.

The second important point is that our work on this case is critically important because it will disrupt the activities of the Mabna Institute and it will deter similar crimes by other perpetrators. This indictment publicly identifies the conspirators, and this type of public identification helps to deter state-sponsored computer intrusions by stripping hackers of their anonymity, and by imposing real consequences. Revealing the Mabna Institute's nefarious activities makes it harder for them to do business. Additionally, we're working with foreign law enforcement agencies, and  providing the private sector with information that would help to neutralize Mabna's hacking infrastructure.

By bringing these criminal charges we reinforce the norm that most of the civilized world accepts: Nation-states should not steal intellectual property for the purpose of giving domestic industries a competitive advantage.

As a result of the indictment, these defendants are now fugitives from justice. There are more than 100 countries where they may face arrest and extradition to the United States. And thanks to the Treasury Department, the defendants will find it difficult to engage in business or financial transactions outside of Iran.

By making clear that criminal actions have consequences, we deter schemes to victimize the United States, and its companies, and its citizens, and we help to protect our foreign allies.

In summary, the United States is taking several coordinated actions to coincide with unsealing this indictment:

- We are imposing financial sanctions on the individual defendants and the Mabna Institute.

- We are releasing information about cyber vulnerabilities, which will help private sector organizations protect themselves.

- And we are enlisting the assistance of international law enforcement partners.

I am grateful to Secretary Steven Mnuchin for using the Treasury Department's authorities to reinforce the criminal charges. I also want to think United States Attorney Geoffrey Berman; Assistant Attorney General John Demurs; FBI Director Christopher Wray; and the many Department of Justice employees, agents, prosecutors, and support personnel who worked to secure this important indictment.

I'd like to introduce our United States Attorney from Southern New York, Geoff Berman.

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Page Update: 7/16/18

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