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Iran helps Houthis fight Yemen war in cyberspace

November 30, 2018

Iranian operatives are helping Houthi rebels control cyberspace in Yemen’s brutal civil war, allowing the militia to command the country’s main internet service provider, censor online comment, alter government websites and make money from cryptocurrencies, according to a report.

While much of the international spotlight in Yemen has focused on the humanitarian crisis and the stalemated battle with the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led military alliance, intelligence analysts say a sophisticated battle over communications is raging.

“In the middle of the Yemeni civil war, the factions are also vying for control of internet access,” said Greg Lesnewich, an author of a report by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future released this week at the inaugural CyberwarCon conference in Washington.

The analysis details efforts by Houthi rebel forces and their Iranian backers to take command of YemenNet the country’s main internet service. Controlling YemenNet which oversees the .ye domain has allowed the Houthis to completely shut off internet access across portions of the country.

In a poverty-stricken nation that lacks modern telephone networks, such a tactic can completely cripple humanitarian efforts.

While researchers found evidence that Yemeni Web users at times can circumvent online controls, the overall percentage of the population using the internet has stagnated since 2016.

Recorded Future previously reported on Iranian cyberactivity after the “Yemen Cyber Army” attacked government agencies in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has led the international military coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi which is fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis.

The Yemen Cyber Army “has since been linked to Iran,” the report noted.

Money-laundering concerns have also surfaced over roughly 1,000 efforts to create or “mine” cryptocurrency such as bitcoin, Recorded Future found.

Iranian, Russian and North Korean hackers have increasingly used the shadowy and largely unregulated cryptocurrencies to finance a host of online activities, in addition to subverting U.S. financial sanctions. In Yemen, according to the report, the Houthi-led government attempted to use cryptocurrencies to generate revenue.

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