By Jon Dougherty
(NationalSentinel) While Democrats and some Republicans have criticized President Donald Trump for failing to launch kinetic strikes against Iranian military assets responsible for shooting down a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone last week, it wasn’t as if the commander-in-chief took the incident lying down.
In addition to signing an executive order placing severe new economic sanctions on Iran that even target its religious and supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, the president also ordered cyberattacks against Iranian military infrastructure.
The Associated Press reported:
U.S. military cyber forces launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems on Thursday as President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional military strike in response to Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, U.S. officials said Saturday.
Two officials told The Associated Press that the strikes were conducted with approval from Trump. A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the operation.
The cyber assault was part of contingency planning that the administration and the Pentagon have been developing for weeks as tensions with the Islamic republic rose.
In particular, the attacks were said to have taken out Iranian computer systems that control rocket and missile launch centers, according to the officials.
Two officials said that the attacks targeted, specifically, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps computer system. The cyber attacks were drawn up after Iran attacked and blew up a pair of oil tankers earlier this month, the AP noted. Yahoo News first reported the cyber strike.
The IRGC is a branch of the Iranian military, but it was designated a terrorist-sponsoring organization earlier this year by the Trump administration.
Cyber Command’s actions reflect a maturing U.S. capability as well as a desire to use it offensively where necessary. President Trump has advocated for a more muscular use of U.S. cyber abilities in response to a willingness by our adversaries to use their capabilities to target American military and civilian infrastructure.
Earlier this month, thanks to leaked classified information, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was targeting Russian power grids and other infrastructure, in part for Moscow’s 2016 election meddling but also because Russia has been targeting the American grid and infrastructure:
The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said.
In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.
As for Iran, the Washington Post is reporting that American businesses are bracing for Iranian cyber-counterattacks:
U.S. businesses should get ready for a barrage of digital retaliation from Iran after the Trump administration launched a cyberattack against the Islamic Republic’s rocket and missile launching systems, current and former U.S. government officials said this weekend.
Iranian hackers are already targeting U.S. companies with specialized malicious software designed to wipe the contents of their computer networks rather than to simply steal their data, Chris Krebs, director of the Homeland Security Department’s cybersecurity division, warned in a Saturday email.
And cybersecurity companies — which were already clocking a dramatic increase in Iranian hacking during the past few weeks — began warning this weekend that the nation could increase its attacks and make them far more destructive.
“They might choose a nonmilitary target where they can have a greater effect,” John Hultquist, director of intelligence and analysis at the cybersecurity firm FireEye, told the Post.
“They’re going to go for the soft underbelly,” he said. “In the past, that’s been our financial sector. They’ve also demonstrated interest in everything from energy to transportation to several other sectors.”
Besides launching attacks aimed at deleting data, the Iranians may also attempt ransomware attacks.
That said, the Iranian capability doesn’t come close to U.S. CyberCom capabilities. As Nasdaq reported in 2017:
Unsurprisingly, the U.S sits as the nation [that] has the best offensive cyber capabilities… the National Security Agency has been and continues to be involved in an array of big brother and clandestine operations.
To put the scale of the U.S cyber army into perspective, the headquarters of the U.S cyber spy division is considered to be equivalent to the size of a U.S city, with the NSA headquarters not only heavily armed, but also has its own police force. And it just keeps getting bigger, with the NSA’s cyber spies recently joining forces with U.S Cyber Command, which is responsible for the U.S Cyber Army, Cyber Airforce, Cyber Marine Corps and Cyber Navy.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10
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