Two hackers, one an Iranian teenager, have been indicted for allegedly vandalizing at least 51 websites with pro-Iran sentiments. The unsophisticated attacks were, essentially, a hacktivist response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani — one of Iran’s most important military operatives — by US forces in January.
The people named in the indictment, made by a federal grand jury, are Behzad Mohammadzadeh, who is “believed to be approximately 19,” according to the indictment, and Marwan Abusrour, whose age is not given in the documents. The two are charged with conspiracy to commit intentional damage to a protected computer and two counts of committing intentional damage to a protected computer.
Several websites that belonged to small businesses — as well as some individual Americans — were defaced with slogans including “Down with America.” The hacker who identified himself as “Mr Behzad” left his telegram handle on these sites, The Verge reported in January. The sites identified by The Verge included ones run by a retired Californian dentist that was meant to promote his free dental services in Uganda and an Oklahoma company that makes feeding troughs for livestock.
Abusrour, who is “a stateless national of the Palestinian Authority,” gave Mohammadzadeh access to compromised websites, including some in the US, the complaint says. In January, Mohammadzadeh or Abusrour or both replaced the websites’ original contents with their own images and text. The images included photos of Soleimani and the Iranian flag, as well as messages such as Soleimani “was not a person/he was a belief/Beliefs never die.”
The hacked websites directed viewers to Mohammadzadeh’s public Instagram account, the indictment says. The Instagram account, in turn, directed people to zone-h.org, “a website on which people identifying themselves as computer hackers regularly post screenshots of the results of their network intrusions and website defacements under their hacker pseudonyms,” the indictment says. Mohammadzadeh had about 400 posts on that site in January 2020, according to the indictment.
Defacing small websites — as the two men are accused of doing — isn’t especially sophisticated. “I do not work for the government. I work for my home country of Iran,” “Mr Behzad” told The Verge in January.