Iran Claims Credit for Cyber Attack on VOA

Note: This press release is updated to include reports of the Iranian Cyber Army taking responsibility for the hacking and news of an attack on the RFE telephone system.

The Iranian Cyber Army has taken credit for a cyber attack on the Voice of America, according to reports by Iranian state media outlets Press TV and Fars News Service. VOA suffered a web Domain Name System (DNS) attack, while VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN) and RFE Radio Farda programs have faced increased satellite signal interference, and RFE faced a “denial of service attack” on its telephone systems in an effort to keep Iranians from contacting Radio Farda.

As popular protests unfold across the Middle East and audiences for U.S. international broadcasting surge, efforts to interfere with the networks have increased. 

“Our broadcasters are at the forefront of reporting the most tumultuous events we have seen unfold since 1989,” said Walter Isaacson, chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which oversees all U.S. international broadcasting including the Alhurra TV, VOA and RFE. “It is a testament to their vital role that they are subject to the work of hackers and signal interference.”

On Monday, February 21, an unknown party hacked the Voice of America’s primary domain name (VOANews.com), and other related domains, redirecting visitors to a website claiming to be run by a group called the “Iranian Cyber Army.” Yesterday, Iran’s Press TV reported a statement by Ali Saeedi Shahroodi, an official with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claiming, “The hacking of a VOA homepage by the Iranian Cyber Army … shows the power and capability of the Corps (IRGC) in the cyber arena.” Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency also credited the Iranian Cyber Army, in a February 22 report, explaining that the attack was in response to VOA’s reporting on events in Iran. 

The attack did not affect internal systems or servers, nor was any data lost or compromised. The BBG is working with appropriate authorities to investigate further.

“There’s a saying that a hit dog hollers – that can be applied to whoever tried to cut off access to VOA News by attacking the domain provider on Monday. The fact that the sites were redirected to the Iranian Cyber Army certainly raises an eyebrow or two,” said Dana Perino, a member of the BBG.  “Technology is chipping away at the stranglehold on free and fair information inside Iran. VOA and RFE are strongly committed to providing the news at it happens in a variety of ways so that every Iranian that can get access to the free media can benefit from our journalists’ reporting.”

Last week RFE’s Radio Farda faced a variation of a “denial of service” attack on its phone lines with a flood of automated calls aiming to clog its answering machines. Calls played just over one minute of a looped recording of speeches and sermons in Persian before hanging up.

Since February 13, there has been intermittent but frequent interference of VOA PNN and Radio Farda satellite signals with programming in Persian for audiences in Iran.

As of the morning of February 21, there has been a continuous service interruption on one satellite channel carrying VOA’s PNN.  PNN is carried on three other satellite paths as well as online, including its popular TV satire, “Parazit.” Millions of the show’s fans use proxy servers to access the program through social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. Similarly, Radio Farda’s website has seen an approximate 50 percent increase in web traffic over the past two weeks.

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