Facebook Notifies State Department Employees of Iran Hacks

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through glasses held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012. The cyberattacks were discovered thanks to a new feature on the social media site. Thomas Hodel/Reuters

Over the past month, Iran has blistered the U.S. with cyberattacks, The New York Times reports, and most recently has directed a series of digital strikes at State Department officials who focus on Iran and the Middle East. The attacks went largely unnoticed—until Facebook notified the officials of the breach.

American intelligence officials had warned of a possible ramp-up of cyberespionage following the historic nuclear agreement in July involving the two countries. The officials have concluded, according to the Times, that Iran views cyberattacks as a way to gain influence in the wake of that deal.

Officials familiar with the ongoing investigation told the Times that the attackers broke into email and social media accounts of young government employees in order to gain access to their colleagues throughout the administration. Iran's cyberespionage capabilities pale in comparison to those of China and Russia, the Times said, but the methods behind the attack were said to be clever and resourceful.

The State Department employees were unaware of the attacks until Facebook notified them that their accounts had been compromised by a government-sponsored attack. Facebook introduced this type of notification last month; without it, the officials may never have learned of the breach.

"It was very carefully designed and showed the degree to which they understood which of our staff was working on Iran issues now that the nuclear deal is done," an unidentified senior American official told the Times. "It was subtle."