LABScon23 Replay | Meet the Iranian Company Powering Russia’s Drone War on Ukraine

Adam Rawnsley has spent the past decade reporting in-depth on Iran’s UAV industry and paying particular attention to the IRGC drone company Mado and its CEO Yousef Aboutalebi. One day in 2021, a self-professed “hacktivist” popped into Adam’s direct messages, told him his “group” had noticed Adam had done the most work on Mado, and dumped videos and documents allegedly hacked from the company’s network and CEO.

The material—painstakingly verified with the help of colleagues—fleshes out a portrait of the company Adam had been sketching out for years. Thanks to the additional sourcing and some help from colleagues at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and work by others, we can now confirm that Mado engines are powering the Iranian drones raining down on Ukraine and are likely used in some of the cruise missiles Iran and its proxies have launched against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Using the hacked documents and videos along with court records, web registration information, business records, and other open sources, Adam traces the rise of a key Iranian drone company from late 2000s aviation forum posts to contracts with some of the highest ranking generals in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Mado’s trail starts in Iran but moves through China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, an Iranian motorcycle company, and finally Russia and Ukraine.

About the Presenter

Adam Rawnsley is a reporter at Rolling Stone. He spent his career in journalism covering national and cybersecurity, primarily through the lens of open source reporting. He has written for Bellingcat, Foreign Policy, Wired, and The Daily Beast and guest lectured on open source and security issues at CyberWarCon (2022), John Hopkins University, Georgetown University, and Middlebury College.

About LABScon 2023

This presentation was featured live at LABScon 2023, an immersive 3-day conference bringing together the world’s top cybersecurity minds, hosted by SentinelOne’s research arm, SentinelLabs.

Keep up with all the latest on LABScon 2024 here.