go to content
World

The "Yemen Cyber Army" Hacked The Saudi Government

The Saudi foreign ministry confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it had been hacked. The breach includes the passport information of U.S. nationals who visited Saudi Arabia, as well as internal government communications.

Originally posted on
Updated on

SAN FRANCISCO — A group calling itself the Yemen Cyber Army has released a cache of documents from Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry, including visa applications that include the passport details of American and other foreign nationals who have applied for visas to visit the Saudi Kingdom.

The group said the documents, which were released over the weekend, were "only the beginning," according to a statement posted on Pastebin. The group has said that they have "sensitive information" obtained from the foreign ministry, and that they will continue releasing the information over the coming weeks.

The Saudi foreign ministry confirmed to BuzzFeed News by phone that they had been hacked, but said the scope of the attack was "limited" and that no sensitive documents were accessed. In a statement made to the Saudi Press Agency, the ministry said it was investigating the breach.

Cyberkov, a Kuwait-based cybersecurity firm that works across the Gulf States, told BuzzFeed News that they considered the Yemen Cyber Army an active threat not just to Saudi Arabia, but to all GCC countries.

"The hacking attack appears to be legitimate, deep and devastating; contrary to some of the official statements made on the eve of the attack," wrote Abdullah AlAli,

Chief Executive Officer of Cyberkov, in an email to BuzzFeed News. "The attack appears to have penetrated the most sensitive data stores in the Foreign Ministry, and it appears to have been made in a slow steady manner."

The Yemen Cyber Army only recently emerged with a series of hacking campaigns, including #OpSaudi and #OpKSA targeting Saudi Arabia. In mid-April, the group claimed responsibility for hacking the website of the Saudi-owned al-Hayat daily newspaper. The first cache of documents, which the group claims were stolen off computers in Saudi's foreign ministry, were released nine days ago on Pastebin. Those appeared to include internal government communications as well as passwords and usernames to official Saudi government email accounts. On Friday, a new set of Pastebin links appeared which released passport information for what the Yemen Cyber Army claimed were over one million individuals who applied for visas to the kingdom.

BuzzFeed reached out to several of the U.S. nationals whose details were named. All appeared to be academics who had visited Saudi Arabia in the last five years and who had applied for visas through the foreign ministry.

Cybersecurity experts said that little was known about the group, which has claimed allegiance to the hacktivist collective Anonymous. In a statement posted alongside the data cache, the group wrote, "Your Network Hacked by Yemen Cyber Army. We Are Anonymous. We Are Everywhere. We Are Legion. We do Not Forgive. We do Not Forget. Stop Attacking Our Country."

Reports about the Yemen Cyber Army first appeared on the site of Iran's state-sponsored Press TV.

Saudi Arabia has led a campaign against the Iranian-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, conducting air strikes since March 25.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have increased in recent years, as both vie for more control in the region. Iran was thought to be behind a 2012 hack of the Saudi Arabian oil firm Aramco.

Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F

Contact Sheera Frenkel at sheera.frenkel@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.