Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center says a hacking group within the Iranian government is behind a cyber operation that targeted French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The group — which Microsoft calls Neptunium and the U.S. Justice Department calls Emennet Pasargad — claimed in January it had stolen the personal information of 200,000 Charlie Hebdo customers after hacking into one of the magazine’s databases.
In several social media posts under the name Holy Souls, the group marketed samples of the stolen data that included names, phone numbers, addresses, emails and more from subscribers to the magazine. Holy Souls published the stolen data on YouTube and on several hacker forums, amplifying the posts across several social media platforms.
According to Microsoft, the attack was orchestrated in response to the magazine’s decision to hold a cartoon contest asking readers to submit drawings ridiculing Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“The issue featuring the winning cartoons was to be published in early January, timed to coincide with the eighth anniversary of an attack by two al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)-inspired assailants on the magazine’s offices,” Microsoft said Friday.
“Holy Souls advertised the cache of data for sale for 20 BTC (equal to roughly $340,000 at the time). The release of the full cache of stolen data – assuming the hackers actually have the data they claim to possess – would essentially constitute the mass doxing of the readership of a publication that has already been subject to extremist threats (2020) and deadly terror