Google detects phishing attacks in Iran ahead of elections

The company has seen a surge in phishing activity in the region

Google has detected large-scale phishing attacks targeting users in Iran, ahead of presidential elections in the country.

The company has detected and disrupted for almost three weeks email-based phishing campaigns that are aimed at compromising the accounts of tens of thousands of Iranian users, Eric Grosse, Google's vice president for security engineering wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

Phishing emails, claim to be from legitimate sources, and steal information often by directing users to a fraudulent website where they are required to fill in their personal or financial information.

Google has also reported a drop in connectivity to Gmail in the country ahead of the election on Friday. Iran, which has talked about launching a local "national Internet", has a history of blocking access to Internet services and websites considered offensive by the regime.

The timing and targeting of the current phishing campaigns suggest that the attacks are "politically motivated in connection with the Iranian presidential election, " Grosse wrote. The campaigns, which have their origin in Iran, represent a significant jump in the overall volume of phishing activity in the region, he added.

Unlike "man-in-the-middle" attacks on Gmail users in Iran two years ago, which used a rogue SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, the phishing technique this time is more routine, Grosse said. The group behind the attacks, however, appears to be the same.

Users receive an email with a link to a fraudulent web page that offers to provide a way to perform account maintenance. "If the user clicks the link, they see a fake Google sign-in page that will steal their username and password," he added.

"Protecting our users' accounts is one of our top priorities, so we notify targets of state-sponsored attacks and other suspicious activity, and we take other appropriate actions to limit the impact of these attacks on our users," Grosse wrote.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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