According to an article written by Patrick O’Neill: “Disruptive and destructive” cyberattacks could be the fallout after President Trump targeted Iran’s military leader in a drone strike. The article is published by MIT Technology Review.
The US killing of Iran’s top general, Qassim Suleimani, could have consequences that imminently spill over into cyberspace, experts and officials said after the deadly missile strike in Baghdad.
One senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs, warned American companies and government agencies to “pay close attention” to critical systems and to Iranian tools, tactics, and procedures in the wake of the attack.
While President Trump, who ordered the strike on Major General Suleimani, is reportedly sending thousands more US troops to the Middle East, cybersecurity experts warned that further conflict could happen online.
The warnings echoed previous alerts over the past three years as tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated.
The United States and Iran are two of the most advanced, active, and capable hacking powers in the world at a time when governments regularly use hacking to accomplish important goals and shape geopolitics. Tensions between the two countries and their allies have produced a lengthy history of extraordinary cyberattacks in addition to traditional kinetic warfare.
Ten years ago, a suspected American-Israeli cyberattack against Iranian nuclear facilities was discovered by researchers after the worm mistakenly spread around the world. Known as Stuxnet, the US attack remains one of the most advanced hacking operations ever conducted.
Before the 2015 nuclear deal was brokered between the US, Iran, Europe, Russia, and China, hackers from Iran regularly targeted American finance companies and critical infrastructure. Hultquist said that activity has been relatively limited since the deal—even though the US pulled out of the agreement in May 2018—but he believes Iran’s relative restraint could give way to new operations after Suleimani’s killing.
Tehran may have slowed down on direct attacks against the United States, but it has been exceptionally active in hacking throughout the Middle East for an entire decade. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival and one of America’s foremost allies, has been a repeated target.
Within the last year, Iran and the US have repeatedly targeted one another in hacking operations. Iranian government hackers tried to breach President Trump’s reelection campaign. US Cyber Command reportedly hamstrung Iran’s paramilitary force during a period of high tensions earlier this year.
The strike has already increased tensions. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “a forceful revenge” for the killing of Suleimani, who was widely seen as the second most powerful man in Iran.
“In every modern conflict, cyber will play a role,” says Sergio Caltagirone, a former technical lead at the NSA who now works at the industrial cybersecurity firm Dragos. “Whether that’s a hidden role or an overt role, cyber will have a place, especially in operations that are as important as these for both countries. What role it plays, how prominent it is, and whether anyone knows about it is a whole other question.”
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