Regime-backed hackers in Iran have targeted several activists, journalists, researchers, academics, diplomats and politicians, Human Rights Watch has said.

The rights watchdog said Monday that two of its staff members and at least 18 other high-profile activists have been targeted by a phishing campaign.

The email and other sensitive data of a correspondent for a major US newspaper, a women's rights defender in the Persian Gulf region and Nicholas Noe, an advocacy consultant for Refugees International based in Lebanon, have been compromised by APT42.

An investigation, launched by HRW and Amnesty International, revealed that the phishing attack was probably conducted by a group known as APT42 which is affiliated with the Iranian regime.

“Iran’s state-backed hackers are aggressively using sophisticated social engineering and credential harvesting tactics to access sensitive information and contacts held by Middle East-focused researchers and civil society groups,” stated Abir Ghattas, information security director at Human Rights Watch.

Ghattas further noted that it significantly increases the risks that journalists and human rights defenders face in Iran and elsewhere in the region.

The APT42 earlier targeted medical research companies in the United States and Israel in late 2020, and academics from France, and the Middle East in 2019.

They have also attacked the media sector and interfered with the presidential elections in the United States.

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