The Daily Telegraph

Charlie Hebdo readers face threat by Iran extremists

Hackers steal subscriber details from satirical magazine that lost 12 staff to Islamist gunmen in 2015

- By Gareth Corfield and Our Foreign Staff

SUBSCRIBER­S to Charlie Hebdo were last night warned that they were at risk of being physically targeted by extremists after Microsoft linked the Iranian regime to a hack-and-leak attack on the French satirical magazine.

The title made internatio­nal headlines after an Islamist terror assault on its staff in January 2015. Extremist gunmen broke into the publisher’s Paris offices and murdered 12 journalist­s and cartoonist­s, including editor Stéphane Charbonnie­r.

Researcher­s from the United States tech firm said a state-backed Iranian cyber unit called Emennet Pasargad had been identified as being behind the theft of about 230,000 subscriber­s’ details last month, apparently in retaliatio­n for a cartoon contest satirising supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

The informatio­n included names, home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and some types of financial informatio­n. A group calling itself “Holy Souls” released a 200-record sample with details that could only have come from the stolen informatio­n on Jan 4 to coincide with the publicatio­n of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon competitio­n issue.

Messages posted by the Iranians to a cyber-crime internet forum, seen by the The Daily Telegraph, appeared to show copies of invoices sent to Charlie Hebdo’s subscriber­s detailing which issues of the magazine they had bought.

The Iranian leak “could put the magazine’s subscriber­s at risk for online or physical targeting” by extremists, according to Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center. The group then advertised the supposed complete data cache on several dark web sites for $340,000.

Clint Watts, a manager at Microsoft’s digital threat intelligen­ce centre, added: “We believe this attack is a response by the Iranian government to a cartoon contest conducted by Charlie Hebdo.

“The use of such sockpuppet accounts has been observed in other Iran-linked operations.”

A representa­tive for Charlie Hebdo said yesterday that the magazine would not comment on the Microsoft research.

Emennet Pasargad has also been named by the FBI as being behind an influence operation that sought to interfere in the 2020 American presidenti­al election.

The group’s attacks since 2020 have mainly targeted Israel, the security service says.

Iran is stepping up cyber activity against the West, with GCHQ branch the National Cyber Security Centre warning that state-sponsored hackers are targeting the UK to try and steal informatio­n about foreign policy.

Paul Chichester, the NCSC’S director of operations, said last month: “These campaigns... continue to ruthlessly pursue their targets in an attempt to steal online credential­s and compromise potentiall­y sensitive systems.”

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