Remarks as prepared by delivery.
For many decades, the United States has led the world in science, technology, research, and development.
Hostile individuals, organizations and nation-states have taken note of our success. They increasingly attempt to profit from America’s ingenuity by infiltrating our computer systems, stealing our intellectual property, and evading our controls on technology exports.
When hackers gain unlawful access to computers, it can take only a few minutes to steal discoveries produced by many years of work and many millions of dollars of investment.
That type of criminal activity does not just cause economic harm. It also threatens our national security. Identifying and prosecuting computer hackers is a priority for the Department of Justice.
We are here today to announce that a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York indicted nine Iranians for conspiring to hack into computers and defraud American and foreign universities, businesses, and government agencies.
I want to caution you that an indictment is not a finding of guilt. In the American judicial system, defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.
The indictment alleges that the defendants worked on behalf of the Iranian government, specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
They hacked the computer systems of approximately 320 universities in 22 countries. 144 of the victims are American universities. The defendants stole research that cost the universities approximately $3.4 billion to procure and maintain.
The stolen information was used by the Revolutionary Guard or sold for profit in Iran.
The defendants worked for the Mabna Institute, an organization that two of the defendants founded with the stated purpose of helping Iranian universities access scientific research.
Their work consisted of stealing research through illegal computer intrusions.
The indictment charges nine defendants for committing seven federal crimes. The charges include computer fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and identity theft.
I want to make two additional points before I turn over the microphone to United States Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who will describe the charges in greater detail.
First, every sector of our economy is a target of malicious cyber activity. Everyone who owns a computer needs to be vigilant to prevent attacks.
Academic institutions are prime targets for foreign cyber criminals. Universities can thrive as marketplaces of ideas and engines of research and development only if their work is protected from theft.
The events described in this indictment highlight the need for universities and other organizations to emphasize cyber security, increase threat awareness, and harden their computer networks.
The second important point is that our work on this case is critically important because it will disrupt the criminal operations of the Mabna Institute and deter similar crimes by others.
The indictment publicly identifies the alleged perpetrators. This type of public identification helps deter state-sponsored computer intrusions by stripping them of anonymity and imposing consequences.
Revealing the Mabna Institute’s nefarious activities makes it harder for them to do business. Additionally, we are working with foreign law enforcement agencies and providing the private sector with information to help neutralize Mabna’s hacking infrastructure.
By bringing these criminal charges, we reinforce a norm that most of the civilized world accepts: nation-states should not steal intellectual property for the purpose of giving domestic industries a competitive advantage.
As a result of the indictment, the defendants are now fugitives from justice. There are more than 100 countries where they cannot travel without fear of arrest and extradition. And, thanks to the Treasury Department, the defendants will find it difficult to engage in business or financial transactions outside of Iran.
By making clear that criminal actions have consequences, we deter schemes to victimize the United States, its companies, and its citizens, and we help protect foreign allies.
In summary, the United States is taking several coordinated actions to coincide with unsealing the indictment. We are imposing financial sanctions on the individual defendants and the Mabna Institute. We are releasing information about cyber vulnerabilities. And we are enlisting the assistance of international law enforcement partners.
I am grateful to Secretary Steven Mnuchin for using Treasury’s authorities to reinforce the criminal charges. I also want to thank United States Attorney Geoffrey Berman, Assistant Attorney General John Demers, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and the many Department of Justice employees who worked to secure this important indictment.