Iran hacks opposition Web sites, arrests cyber activists

Iranian government say sites were affiliated with US espionage networks

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps hacked into 29 Web sites affiliated with U.S. espionage networks, Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency reported on Sunday.

"The hacked websites acted against Iran's national security under the cover of human rights activities," Fars reported. It did not disclose details of the attacks.

The 29 Web sites were identified in a statement (in Farsi) released on a Web site operated by the Revolutionary Guards.

The Internet has been used by Iranian opposition groups who contested the results of last year's elections there to organize demonstrations and share information about protests and arrests. The Revolutionary Guards is a military group that was founded after Iran's 1979 revolution. The group includes conventional army, navy, air force, and intelligence units, as well as the Basij paramilitary force and various business units.

Some of the hacked domain names listed by Fars pointed to a single Web site, hra-iran.org, which displayed a short statement on its main page: "This website is temporarily unavailable, please try again later." Other domain names led to sites that were also unavailable.

Recently cached versions of the hra-iran.org Web site on Google show the site was operated by a group calling itself Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI). Information previously available on the site included a report on 400 Iranian opposition protesters that were arrested on Nov. 4, 2009, an Iranian holiday that marks the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, according to a cached version of the site.

It was not clear whether HRAI had ties to U.S. intelligence organizations or whether the Fars report labeled them as such due to their apparent sympathy for opposition protestors. The Fars report did not tie any of the Web sites to a specific U.S. government entity.

The Fars report came one day after the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's official news agency, reported that the Iranian government had disrupted several "U.S. backed cyber war networks" and arrested 30 people.

The networks were funded as part of US$400 million allocated to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to destabilize Iran, drawing on opposition groups including groups loyal to the deposed Shah of Iran, it said.

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Sumner Lemon

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