Iran hacked Sands operations, U.S. official says

It’s been a year since American billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s casino company was hacked. Now the blame is officially being placed on Iran.

For the first time, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said the Iranian government was behind a damaging cyberattack on Las Vegas Sands Corp. in 2014. He mentioned it while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.

Las Vegas Sands owns The Venetian and Palazzo on the Strip and resorts in Macau and Singapore.

The attack made headlines, because Las Vegas Sands is a large publicly traded company. In February 2014, it said unidentified hackers broke into its computer network and stole customer data: credit card data, Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses numbers.

At the time, it sounded like just another digital break-in. But the nation’s leading intelligence official says it was much worse than that.

On Thursday, Clapper described it as a “destructive cyberattack” on par with North Korea’s hack of Sony. In that case, hackers wiped computers, destroyed data and froze the company to a halt.

It’s unknown what damage Iranian hackers did to the casino company. Las Vegas Sands declined to comment for this story.

However, the company thinks hackers broke into its casino in Bethlehem, Pa., and “certain company data may have been destroyed,” according to documents it filed Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Of all targets, why Adelson’s company? The businessman is a major donor to Republican politicians. He’s staunchly pro-Israel, the ultimate foe of the current Iranian regime. And in the past, Adelson has casually suggested that the U.S. drop nuclear bombs on Iran.

If Clapper’s assertion is true, this is the latest example of a frightening trend: governments are hacking private companies.

Chinese hacker spies have stolen business plans from U.S. power plants. Russian hackers have broken into American and European oil and gas companies. And most recently, leaked documents show American and British spies hacked a makers of phone subscriber identity module cards in the Netherlands.

Computer security experts widely agree that companies aren’t prepared to handle this threat. It comes down to resources. A government is a predator with billions of dollars at its disposal to amass a formidable cyberarmy. Its prey is a lean, for-profit company with a small security team.

Clapper told senators that hackers in Iran and North Korea pose less of a threat than China and Russia. But they’re still a serious foe.

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