Donald Trump may have called off military strikes against Iran at the last minute, avoiding a dangerous war for now, but several reports have noted that both countries are engaging in cyberattacks against each other in the ongoing confrontation.
Yahoo News reported on Friday that U.S. Cyber Command had launched a retaliatory cyber strike against an “Iranian spy group” that intelligence officials say was involved in last week’s mine attacks on two commercial ships in the Gulf of Oman.
The group, which has ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, has over the past several years digitally tracked and targeted military and civilian ships passing through the economically important Strait of Hormuz, through which pass 17.4 million barrels of oil per day. Those capabilities, which have advanced over time, enabled attacks on vessels in the region for several years.
Officials cited by Yahoo did not reveal further details about the U.S. cyber operation.
The Associated Press also reported on Saturday that “hackers believed to be working for the Iranian government” have targeted several U.S. agencies and oil and gas infrastructure in recent weeks with “waves of spear-phishing emails.” The report said it is not known how successful those attempts were.
According to the AP:
The cyber offensive is the latest chapter in the U.S. and Iran’s ongoing cyber operations targeting the other, with this recent sharp increase in attacks occurring after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector this month.
The report noted that such cyber operations are nothing new for Iran, but that country had significantly reduced the frequency of them after the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and Iran reached a sweeping nuclear deal in 2015. Iran reportedly resumed those cyber operations after current President Donald Trump scrapped the nuclear deal in May 2018 and imposed harsh sanctions once again on Iran.
“This is not a remote war (anymore),” Sergio Caltagirone, vice president of threat intelligence at Dragos, Inc., told the AP. “This is one where Iranians could quote unquote bring the war home to the United States.”
It should be pointed out that the U.S., under President Obama, and Israel launched a large cyberattack against Iranian centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plant, an event made public in 2010. Since then, Iran has “really cranked up its capability” in cyber operations, according to a former legal counsel for U.S. Cyber Command cited by Yahoo.
Among those operations are efforts to target U.S. Navy sailors with fake social media profiles in so-called honey-pot or catfishing schemes that help track sensitive information including ship locations, the news site reported.
As The Wall Street Journal noted, Iranian hackers are less capable than counterparts in China or Russia, but given the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Iran, U.S. national security agencies are worried that Iran may try to disrupt the U.S. power grid if the crisis worsens.
According to the Journal:
The fear isn’t hypothetical, the official said. The U.S. indicted seven Iranian nationals in 2016 that it said were working on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to carry out wide-ranging cyber intrusions that included the breach of a small New York dam, which authorities said at the time could have been remotely shut down by the hackers had it not been manually disconnected for routine maintenance.
None of this is to say that the U.S. should engage in a conventional war with Iran. But it does indicate that the situation is tenuous—and dangerous. And it has become so because Donald Trump decided to scrap a functioning nuclear agreement and surrounded himself with neocon war hawks hell-bent on dragging us into a disastrous war.
This is exactly where bad leadership gets us.