UPDATE 1-U.S. pressures Iran with sanctions, indictments for ransomware scheme

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WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on two Iranians for exchanging Bitcoin digital currency into rials and indicted two others for hacking as part of a ransomware scheme known as SamSam that it said extorted millions of dollars.

The Treasury Department said it had sanctioned the first two Iranians for exchanging digital ransomware payments into rials. At the same time the Justice Department said it had indicted Faramarz Shahi Savandi, 34, and Mohammad Mehdi Shah Mansouri, 27, both of Iran, in a 34-month-long international computer hacking and extortion scheme.

Wednesday's sanctions targeted "digital currency exchangers who have enabled Iranian cyber actors to profit from extorting digital ransom payments from their victims," Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said in a statement. "As Iran becomes increasingly isolated and desperate for access to U.S. dollars, it is vital that virtual currency exchanges, peer-to-peer exchangers, and other providers of digital currency services harden their networks against these illicit schemes, Mandelker added.

According to the Treasury, the SamSam ransomware scheme targeted more than 200 victims.

The Justice Department said it had indicted two Iranians for infecting data networks in the United States, Britain and Canada with SamSam. Victims included large U.S. cities such as Atlanta and other major public agencies, as well as healthcare companies such as Laboratory Corporation of American Holdings, the department said in an indictment filed on Wednesday.

The U.S. government has blamed the Iranians for some of the most high-profile cyber attacks that have occurred on U.S. soil, including one in 2016 that forced Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles to turn away patients and one last year that shut down Atlanta courts and much of its city government. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Lisa Lambert; Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Timothy Ahmann Editing by Susan Thomas)