Hackers accessed Telegram accounts in Iran
August 4, 2016
Seid Yassin (557 articles)

Hackers accessed Telegram accounts in Iran

Iranian hackers have compromised more than a dozen accounts on the Telegram instant messaging service and identified the phone numbers of 15 million Iranian users, researchers have found.

The attacks, which took place this year, jeopardised the communications of activists, journalists and other people in sensitive positions in Iran, where Telegram is used by some 20 million people, according to independent security researcher Collin Anderson and Amnesty International technologist Claudio Guarnieri, who have been studying Iranian hacking groups for three years.

Telegram promotes itself as an ultra secure instant messaging system because it employs end-to-end encryption.

Headquartered in Berlin, Telegram says it has 100 million active subscribers and is widely used in the Middle East, including by the Islamic State militant group, as well as in Central and Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

Telegram’s vulnerability, according to Anderson and Guarnieri, lies in its use of SMS text messages to activate new devices. When users want to log on to Telegram from a new phone, the company sends them authorisation codes via SMS, which can be intercepted by the phone company and shared with the hackers, the researchers said.

Armed with the codes, the hackers can add new devices to a person’s Telegram account, enabling them to read chat histories as well as new messages.

“We have over a dozen cases in which Telegram accounts have been compromised, through ways that sound like basically coordination with the cellphone company,” Anderson said.

Telegram’s reliance on SMS verification makes it vulnerable in any country where cellphone companies are owned or heavily influenced by the government, the researchers said.

A spokesman for Telegram said customers can defend against such attacks by not just relying on SMS verification. Telegram allows – though it does not require – customers to create passwords, which can be reset with recovery emails.

“This is hardly a new threat as we’ve been increasingly warning our users in certain countries about it. Last year we introduced two-step verification specifically to defend users in such situations,” Telegram said in a blog post.

“If you have reasons to think that your mobile carrier is intercepting your SMS codes, use two-step verification to protect your account with a password. If you do that, there’s nothing an attacker can do.”

Iranian officials were not available to comment. Iran has in the past denied government links to hacking.

Source | itnews