Inside an Iranian Hacker Collective: An Exclusive Flashpoint Interview with Parastoo
At the end of 2015, Flashpoint analysts conducted an exclusive email interview with the Iranian hacker collective, Parastoo. Over the past five years, this hacking group has been credited with attacks targeting IHS Jane’s, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
While the group’s claims could not be independently verified or confirmed, Parastoo offered several insights into its organization, objectives, and targets:
- Parastoo stated to have organized as a group in 2010 before going public in 2012 and consists of no more than 30 members.
- The group characterizes itself as “professionals with a code of conduct” who do not target civilians but rather target “players who help Israel, particularly financially and technologically.”
- It alleges that it is not sponsored by, or affiliated with, any state, asserting it is an “ideological cyber movement.”
- The collective claims to host a dedicated online portal supporting its ideology and operations, though it has not yet announced what services are offered through this portal.
Please find the full interview with Parastoo below.
Q. Could you please tell us about your history as a group? When were you established? What is the leadership structure of your organization? How many members (tens, hundreds, thousands?)?
A. We started Parastoo around 2010 and went public in 2012. Structure is secret. Members are less than 30 individuals even in our biggest ops.
Q. A security research blogger who goes by the name Krypt3ia produced a report connecting Parastoo to a defunct web forum called RCE.ir and claiming that your group was started by a user with the handle “DarkPassenger.” We have also seen evidence that Persian-language portions of your most recent communiqué released on Cryptome (How to Attack Critical Infrastructure) previously appeared on RCE.ir in August 2012. Are you familiar with either RCE.ir or DarkPassenger, and is this part of the genesis of Parastoo?
A. We are familiar with the forum. Most of the analysis you referred to is based on misunderstandings due to language barriers and the fact that many Mideast-based groups who were once active in that forum are currently inactive due to state security purposes as we are told. We can not confirm or deny anything more than this statement. In essence, names, crews, forums and other flags are tools. Obviously we use many tools, including these ones.
Q. From your first release of IAEA documents, recent communiqués suggest Parastoo has moved more towards targeting of critical infrastructure systems in the US. Is this the group’s main target? If not, who/what are your primary targets? Do you have other targets and what are they?
A. Our targets are players who help Israel, particularly financially and technologically. Israel is a terrorist state armed with nuclear weapon receiving U.S foreign aid. This is and always will be our main factor when making decision about a target.
Q. What are your overall motivations? What are the group’s objectives in exposing the functions of international energy organizations such as IAEA and DOE? What is the point of targeting US critical infrastructure systems? In targeting UAV operations, are you looking for more technical information or are you trying to expose threats to privacy and freedom?
A. Privacy, freedom and safety of civilians wont be harmed by our ops. We see ourselves as professionals with codes [of] conduct.
Q. What is your relationship with the Iranian government? Do you receive any support from the Iranian government? Will the recent nuclear accord diminish your targeting of the US and international organizations?
A. We are not in contract with any state or state-owned organizations. This is an ideological cyber movement and more than enough support of different kinds are available to us just by being who we are, as cyber activists.
Q. Parastoo promised the release of a portal “www.parastoo.ir” in April 2014. The message said that this would serve as a “gateway to our operations and a new under ground cyber movement” including the following groups:
Remember Emad Brigades, Ababil, Bosnian Cyber Army, Karbala Electronic Warfare, Idnol’Jihad, Iranian Cyber Army, Islamic Resistance Group, Cyber Hezbollah, Syrian Electronic Army, Mansooroon. You have also advertised activities of Sobh Cyber Jihad. a. What is the status of the portal you planned to open? b. What is your relationship with the groups on this list? Do you work together/collaborate? How do your missions/targets compare to or differ from one another?
A. Portal is online. Its services soon will be announced through our typical channels, mainly Cryptome. We are in contact with the groups and crews you named and others who were not listed but act the same. [The] nature of these contacts are secret. We have announced our motto, maybe others like to work on various different kind of targets for their own purposes, maybe sometimes we support some of the targetings or maybe not. We only speak for ourselves here.