The U.S. has sanctioned entities and individuals associated with Iran's intelligence and security ministry for allegedly engaging in a malware campaign targeting Iranian dissidents, other individuals and companies, the U.S Treasury Department said Thursday.
The sanctions were imposed on the Iranian cyber threat group Advanced Persistent Threat 39, a front company and 45 people.
The Treasury Department said in a statement that the Iranian government hid behind the front company, Rana Intelligence Computing Company, when it allegedly engaged in a "years-long malware campaign that targeted Iranian dissidents, journalists, and international companies in the travel sector."
"The Iranian regime uses its Intelligence Ministry as a tool to target innocent civilians and companies, and advance its destabilizing agenda around the world," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in the statement. "The United States is determined to counter offensive cyber campaigns designed to jeopardize security and inflict damage on the international travel sector."
The U.S. agency said both companies are owned or controlled by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
The department said the sanctioned individuals were employed at Rana and helped execute cyberattacks on the computer networks of air carriers, global businesses, institutions and other targets the ministry deemed a threat.
The agency said an FBI advisory released Thursday cited eight sets of malware the ministry used through the front company to conduct the cyberattacks. By publicizing the codes, the Treasury Department said the FBI hopes to thwart the ministry's ongoing campaign.
The Iranian government did not respond immediately to the announcement of the sanctions.
The sanctions were imposed one day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to assert a "snapback" of all prior international sanctions on Iran, effective at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on September 19, with more announcements to be made this weekend and next week as to exactly how Washington is planning to enforce the "returned U.N. sanctions."
Britain, France and Germany, the so-called E3, said in August that they cannot support the U.S. action to restore U.N. sanctions on Iran, saying it is incompatible with efforts to support the Iran nuclear deal.
Nike Ching contributed to this report.