Iranian Hacker Released by US in Prisoner Swap

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An Iranian hacker who pleaded guilty last year to helping launch successful cyber espionage attacks against a US ballistics software firm has been pardoned and released as part of a bilateral prisoner swap.

Iranian national Nima Golestaneh became one of seven receiving either pardons or commutation of their original sentences on Sunday as the US and Iran sought to normalize diplomatic relations.

He’s the only one of the seven not to hold US citizenship. The others were mainly found guilty of money laundering and breaking the "Iranian embargo."

In 2015, Golestaneh pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud, and one count each of conspiracy to access a computer without authorization and accessing a computer without authorization.

He had been arrested in Turkey and extradited to the States in February that year, having conspired with others to hack the networks of Vermont-based maker of software for ballistic missile systems, Arrow Tech Associates.

His role in the plot was apparently to acquire servers in other countries for his co-conspirators to use in the attack in order to obfuscate their identity and location.

The Justice Department has been keen over the past few years to use high profile indictments in an attempt to deter foreign, potentially state-backed, spies from launching cyber attacks against private firms.

It famously indicted five PLA soldiers back in 2014 in what then attorney general Eric Holder described as a “wake-up call to the seriousness of the ongoing cyber threat.”

For its part, Iran has been steadily building its cyber capabilities over recent years.

Although it’s said to still lag behind the likes of China and Russia in terms of scope and sophistication, reports indicate this is changing quickly.

In December 2014 threat intelligence firm Cylance described Iran as “the new China” after revealing details of Operation Cleaver—a sophisticated campaign which “successfully leveraged both publicly available and customized tools to attack and compromise targets around the globe.”

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