Charlie Hebdo subscription database hacked: Microsoft blames Iran

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo made fun of the rulers of Iran with a caricature competition. In return, it was hacked.

Some of the cartoons at Charlie Hebdo (Image: Screenshot)

Iran is behind a cyber attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in which customer data on around 230,000 subscribers was stolen and then offered on a relevant Internet forum. This is the conclusion reached by Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center (DTAC), where the conclusions have now been published. The cyber attack is said to have been a reaction to a cartoon competition held by the magazine to make fun of Iran’s religious leader, Ali Khamenei.

A group called “Holy Souls” took responsibility for the attack, which was made public on January 4th. According to Microsoft, however, it is an already known group, which Microsoft calls “Neptunium” and the FBI calls “Emennet Pasargad”. In a blog entry, Clint Watts from the DTAC does not justify the assignment with technical evidence. Instead, a number of behaviors that have been observed in connection with the group are listed. The context also speaks for the responsibility of the Iranian actors.

Microsoft reminds us that unauthorized access to user data was advertised by several Twitter accounts even before media reports. Even well-known accounts were imitated, one of them by an alleged editor of Charlie Hebdo himself. The accounts were linked to one another and in many respects behaved in the same way as in similar Iranian campaigns. Added to this is the context of the cartoon competition, which representatives of the regime of the Islamic Republic have condemned at the highest level. The French ambassador was summoned to Tehran and a commander of the Revolutionary Guards warned of the fate of Salman Rushdie.

Against this background, the publication of information on the readers of Charlie Hebdo would be extremely dangerous. Whether that happened is not known. According to the French media, a sample proved to be genuine. Despite this background, the magazine itself published the best of the cartoons submitted, expressing solidarity with the months of anti-regime protests in Iran. A total of over 300 were submitted.

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