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The U.S. indicts some script kiddies for allegedly defacing websites following Qassem Soleimani’s killing. Suspected Chinese hackers were caught with their hand in the cookie jar, then kept digging. And commentary from election security officials helps explain pandemic prep. This is CyberScoop for Wednesday, September 16.

An opening salvo in a week of Iran charges

This wasn’t the response in cyberspace that cybersecurity officials feared when the U.S. military killed Iran’s top general in January. Following the drone strike on Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian teenager and a 25-year-old Palestinian allegedly vandalized a slew of websites in the U.S. and planted anti-American messages. The Department of Justice just announced charges against the men, though it’s unclear when, if ever they will see a courtroom. Two people familiar with the matter told CyberScoop there are more Iran-related cyber indictments coming this week. Sean Lyngaas has the rundown.

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Hackers keep collecting data from the Vatican, disclosure or not

Hackers with suspected ties to the Chinese government kept up their operations in the weeks after they were caught targeting the Vatican, according to Recorded Future. The hacking group, RedDelta, was caught red-handed gathering intelligence from the Holy See, but after a brief pause in activity for several days, the digital intruders resumed their activities, expanding their collection to include targets linked to China’s strategic interests, including in Hong Kong, India, Myanmar, and Australia, the researchers found. Shannon Vavra has the news.

Chinese spies are bullying telecoms

Six suspected Chinese hacking groups have zeroed-in on entities in the telecommunications sector in the first half of this year, CrowdStrike found. While researchers didn't identify the groups or targets by name, attackers have likely been running their operations in an effort to steal sensitive data about targets, or to conduct intellectual property theft. Chinese hackers have gained infamy in the U.S. for alleged IP theft, but CrowdStrike’s findings align with shifts in recent hacking activity indicating that some groups are honing their ability to conduct targeted surveillance. Shannon has more context.

How do you plan an election during a pandemic?

Secretaries of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver of New Mexico and Paul Pate of Iowa have been planning for the 2020 presidential election for years. Despite all that investment work, they didn't prepare for a pandemic. The pair, who lead the National Association of Secretaries of State's cybersecurity committee, said this year has forced election officials across the country meet this unexpected challenge with increased levels of information sharing, virtual interactions across their staffs and more efforts to secure their systems. "The one thing you can always count on is for election officials to come together in a nonpartisan and bipartisan manner to secure elections, share practices and learn from each other," they said. Read their commentary at StateScoop.

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