Hackers claim they gained control over 500 servers of Iran’s Ministry of Science, revealing a trove of classified documents on protests and academia dissidents.

The hacker group Ghiyam ta Sarnegouni (Uprising till Overthrow) which is affiliated to the People's Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MEK) made the announcement Saturday, the first day of the new academic year in Iran and said it had acquired access to over 20,000 documents. 

Some of the documents hackers have published on their Instagram and Telegram accounts are related to purging academics who are critical of the government or have supported the Women, Life, Freedom movement. 

The purge has opened the way for hiring 15,000 pro-regime professors and other staff in universities. Authorities also plan to adopt new student selection procedures and expelling thousands of students who have been part of the protest movement. They have even greenlighted the acceptance of Iraq’s Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militias and other proxies in Iranian universities.

The ministry’s public relations in a statement Saturday claimed “vigilant technical experts” had managed to repel the cyber-attack and shut down the ministry’s website temporarily to investigate the incident. 

In the past year, MEK-affiliated hackers have targeted the portals of several other government agencies including Tehran Municipality, the state broadcasting corporation (IRIB), the Presidential Office, and the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, and Islamic Guidance and published thousands of documents. 

Higher Education Minister Mohammad-Ali Zolfigol

A "very confidential” document published by hackers this time reveals the proceedings of a Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution meeting including demographic data about last year’s nationwide protests based on data from intelligence agencies, including the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Intelligence Organization (SAS). 

Dated October 5, 2022, approximately three weeks after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody sparked nationwide anti-government protests, the document emphasizes that 82 percent of detainees in the first two weeks of the protests were teenagers and young people under the age of thirty, with men comprising the majority at 88 percent of all detainees.

The document also states that authorities had no records related to 93 percent of detainees and that protesters promoted civil disobedience in places such as bazaars, metros and city buses. According to the same document, “hatred towards the Islamic Republic, hostility and civil disobedience” had been observed among protesters. 

In a classified letter to President Ebrahim Raisi that hackers claim to have accessed, Higher Education Minister Mohammad-Ali Zolfigol says some university chancellors were reluctant to cooperate with security bodies in suppressing the students and that some academic officials who had signed statements against such measures had been fired. 

Zolfigol said in the letter that Sharif University of Technology, one of the top universities in Iran, “had come completely under the control of rioters” and added that the National Security Council (NSC) and Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) officially demanded the chancellor of the university to be sacked. 

Sharif University required “fundamental changes” without which it could not be controlled if there was more unrest in the future, the minister said in his letter to the President. 

Students in at least 150 universities across Iran held protests during last year’s several-month-long unrest and in many cases were supported by their professors. Documents acquired by hackers from the IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency in December indicated that at least 51% of the students at state universities had participated in Women, Life, Freedom protests. 

The recent purge of academia in Iranian universities dubbed as ‘the second cultural revolution’ has shaken many Iranians who are already grappling with various pressures. The purge comes amid loss of hope in improvement of the country’s circumstances, including its economy, relations with the international community and removal of sanctions, as well as even relative social and political freedoms.

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