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Pre-election phishing spike blasts Iranian Gmail accounts

Google warns DigiNotar hackers are back on the scene

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Google has spotted a massive spike in what it believes to be politically-motivated phishing attacks originating from Iran and targeting tens of thousands of web users ahead of Friday’s presidential elections.

The Chocolate Factory has spotted several campaigns over the past three weeks, all coming from inside the Islamic Republic and aimed at compromising the accounts of Iranian netizens.

Google VP of security engineering, Eric Grosse, explained in a blog post that the “timing and targeting of the campaigns” pointed to some pre-election intelligence gathering on the part of the authorities.

He continued:

Our Chrome browser previously helped detect what appears to be the same group using SSL certificates to conduct attacks that targeted users within Iran. In this case, the phishing technique we detected is more routine: users receive an email containing a link to a web page that purports to provide a way to perform account maintenance. If the user clicks the link, they see a fake Google sign-in page that will steal their username and password.

The previous attack to which Grosse was referring came in 2011 when hackers compromised Dutch SSL certificate authority DigiNotar in a well-publicised attack thought to have been designed to snoop on private Gmail communications.

Grosse urged Gmail users in Iran to use a modern browser with better in-built protection against phishing as well as switching on two-factor authentication to minimise the risk of compromise.

He also warned users to check the URL of the log-in screen is https://accounts.google.com/ before typing in their Gmail password.

Internet users in the Islamic Republic are used to temporary outages of Gmail and other external comms services, especially in politically sensitive times such as before national elections.

In March it emerged that the authorities blocked the use of most virtual private networks (VPNs) in a bid to stop them circumventing web filters.

There have also been reports that the government is attempting to step up censorship by creating a kind of "walled garden" intranet cut off from the rest of the world. ®

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