An innocent explanation has emerged after a security expert linked a group of Islamic extremists to Iran after supposedly discovering the crew on a list of state-sanctioned leased telephone lines in the Middle East nation.
Mike Kemp, a co-founder of UK-based Xiphos Research, found two entries for "Ansar Al-Mujahideen" in a spreadsheet of Iranian X.25 lines while looking into the venerable packet-switching protocol. He checked his results with a Syrian friend, who helped him translate the Arabic and Farsi in the file.
The listing for Ansar al-Mujahideen - the name of an online forum of jihadi cheerleaders - was buried deep in a document of 2,800 records compiled four years ago by security consultant S. Hamid Kashfi.
But it turns out Ansar al-Mujahideen was lost in translation to English: the entry is actually Ansar al-Mojahedin, the name of a banking institution in Iran between 2002 and 2009. The organisation is now known as the Bank of Ansar.
Kashfi, who is a security researcher rather than a hacker as initially incorrectly reported, told El Reg: "I should clarify that the 'Ansar' name in that list represents an official bank in Iran, and that bank has nothing to do with 'Ansar al-Mojahedin'. It's just similar name."
Kemp withdrew his supposition that the Iranian state backed Ansar al-Mujahideen, an al-Qaeda-affiliated propaganda and recruitment organisation. He said that he only ever intended to draw attention to a potentially interesting finding.
"I fully appreciate that my several translations were incorrect, and that there was an Iranian bank of similar name - not the best naming convention, but hey ho," Kemp said.
"I also am moderately explicit about the fact that I never claimed categorically one way or the other on this one. I'm not a native speaker of either Arabic or Farsi, and never claimed to be. I'm also moderately certain that Hamid, who now works with Immunity and is not a black-hat hacker, put together this listing to demonstrate the widespread existence of X.25 in Iran, and although it could be used irresponsibly I would very much doubt that was his intent."
X.25 was used as a backbone for cash machines, and SMS bulk services, prior to its replacement by IP-based networking equipment in most of the world. The technology is still used in Iran. ®