The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has admitted to suffering a data breach that leaked the email addresses of more than 150 people allegedly involved with Israel's nuclear weapons program.
A hitherto-unknown hacker group calling itself Parastoo claimed responsibility for the breach in a statement released to Pastebin on Tuesday, saying, "You will be hearing game changing news from us frequently from now on."
"Parastoo" is a Farsi word meaning "swallow" – as in the bird – and it's also a fairly common Persian girls' name. Both facts suggest Iranian involvement with the hack, although Iran is not specifically mentioned in the group's statement.
The statement, written in wobbly English and typed in all caps, focuses on Israel's nuclear program, and in particular the "activities at Dimona." Dimona is an Israeli city that is the site of the Negev Nuclear Research Center, a top-secret facility that is widely believed to be involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
"Israel owns a practical nuclear arsenal, tied to a growing military body and it is not a member of internationally respected nuclear, biochemical and chemical agreements," Parastoo's statement reads.
Israel itself has never officially admitted to having nuclear weapons, choosing instead to maintain a policy of deliberate ambiguity on the issue, but it is believed to have had an operational nuclear arms capability since as early as 1967. It also has not signed the international Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Parastoo's statement goes on to list 167 email addresses that the group claims to have extracted from a server at an IP address owned by the IAEA in Vienna, followed by a threat:
We ask these individuals to sign a petition demanding an open IAEA investigation into activities at Dimona. We would like to assert that we have evidences showing there are beyond-harmful operations taking place at this site and the above list who technically help IAEA could be considered a partner in crime should an accident happen there. In such case, many people would like to at least ask some questions and Parastoo will publish whereabouts of every single one of these individuals alongside with bits of helpful personal and professional details.
The group closed its statement with a variation on Anonymous' well-known catchphrase, reworked as another veiled threat against the individuals whose personal information it has obtained: "You are not anonymous. Expect us."
If Parastoo is in fact an Iranian group, its activities could be seen as a primitive form of payback. Iran's own nuclear program has been hampered by repeated cyber-attacks in recent months, with the US and Israel widely considered to be the culprits. While those incidents involved sophisticated malware, however, the IAEA leak appears to be the result of a bog-standard web exploit.
For its part, the IAEA appears to be taking the incident in stride. On Tuesday, Reuters reported IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor as saying the agency "deeply regrets" the leak, but that the information disclosed was taken from "an old server that was shut down some time ago."
"The IAEA's technical and security teams are continuing to analyze the situation and do everything possible to help ensure that no further information is vulnerable," Tudor said. ®