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Iranian hackers may be targeting Americans

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Cyber intelligence suggests Iranian hackers have targeted U.S. military and political leaders through false accounts and fake websites. (Source: CNN) Cyber intelligence suggests Iranian hackers have targeted U.S. military and political leaders through false accounts and fake websites. (Source: CNN)

(CNN) – A cyber intelligence report finds that Iranian hackers have targeted U.S. military and political leaders through false social networking sites and a fake website.

The hackers used social networks in a brazen and creative scheme to spy on high-ranking U.S. and Israeli officials. A new report by a private cyber security firm claims those hackers are based in Iran.

"While its low-sophistication technically, it's actually one of the most elaborate social media, or socially-engineered espionage campaigns we've ever seen to date," iSight Partners spokesperson Tiffany Jones said.

This is how it worked: the hackers created identities as journalists with a bogus online news website called News on Air.

Sometimes, the hackers use real reporter's names, photos and biographies and strike up relationships with friends, relatives and colleagues of their target on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with the target.

Once contact is made, the hackers send emails with links to real news stories in order to establish their credibility. In time, they lure the target to a fake website, where they steal their password and other credentials.

In all, the report found more than 2,000 connections made by hackers in the last three years, including a four-star U.S. admiral, British and Saudi officials, journalists and lawmakers – none of whom were named.

The hackers appeared to be after national security intelligence, but what information they hackers took is unclear. There is no smoking gun pointing to official Iranian involvement, but the report cites circumstantial evidence.

CNN reports that based on who was targeted, the types of information they were going after the infrastructure that was used and where it's registered in Tehran and another of other indicators that are believed to be links to Iranian actors.

Facebook says it was made aware of the scheme when alerted by some of its members of suspicious activity on their accounts and has now removed all of the face profiles from their website. LinkedIn says it's investigating the claims.

The FBI and the State Department have received the report, and aren't commenting on it directly, but the State Department says it has known in the past that hackers from Iran have used social media websites to investigate targets, including U.S. officials.

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