Operation Cleaver report ties Iranian hackers to attacks on major companies

Hacker using laptop. Lots of digits on the computer screen.

Back in 2013, US officials accused Iranian hackers of breaking into the Navy's computers. Now, US cyber security firm Cylance says it has evidence to prove that the same team has infiltrated not just the Navy, but also various top companies across the globe within the past two years. An 86-page report published by the firm says the state-sponsored group has hacked more than 50 aerospace companies, airlines, petrol and energy firms, universities and hospitals, among other entities. Among them, ten are reportedly based in the US, while others are based in China, England, France, Germany, India, Israel, Mexico and South Korea. The report didn't name any of them, but a Reuters source listed these corporations in particular: California power company Calpine Corp, Saudi Arabia's petroleum and gas company Aramco, Mexican-state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos or Pemex, Qatar Airlines and Korean Air.

According to Cylance, the campaign it's dubbed as Operation Cleaver has concentrated mostly on gathering data from these various agencies. But the firm admits it's uncovered but a small portion of the breaches thus far, so the campaign could be much larger in scope. Iranian spokesperson Hamid Babaei, however, has denounced Cylance's report as a "baseless and unfounded allegation fabricated to tarnish the Iranian government image, particularly aimed at hampering current nuclear talks."

If you're wondering what Iran's motives are exactly for doing something like this, Cylance suspects it's revenge. It could be part of the country's efforts to get back at the US and Israel for (reportedly) developing the Stuxnet worm that infected Iran's nuclear program years ago. Whatever the real reason is, the firm's researchers are worried that the stolen data could be used to compromise people's -- say, airline passengers -- safety. Hence, they've chosen to reveal what they've learned to "minimize additional real-world impact and prevent further victimization."

[Image credit: scyther5/Getty]