US and Iran Already at War in Cyberspace

US Cyber Command Launched Digital Strike Against Iran

After US President Trump rescinded the order to strike Iranian targets following Iran’s downing of a US spy drone, it has been revealed that he sent US Cyber Command in to do the job instead. The move comes as cyber security experts report increased Iranian hacking attempts against the US.

US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) launched digital strikes aimed at crippling Iranian computers used to control rocket and missile launches.

The cyber attack came as the president held back from conducting airstrikes on Iranian targets in response to the downing of a US Global Hawk drone. President Trump said that he called off a conventional military retaliation after he learned that 150 people would be killed. Instead, he that the US would announce new sanctions on Iran Monday next week.

It was also reported that Iraqi military bases linked to the US had been targeted in rocket attacks. The Iraqi army on Wednesday said it was investigating a series of mysterious rocket attacks on military bases hosting US personnel and an oil field linked to the US oil giant ExxonMobil.

Citing two former intelligence officials, the Associated Press reported that US Cyber Command targeted an Iranian spy group that has tracked the movement of ships passing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz where oil tankers had previously been attacked by Iranian forces.

The cyber offensive was reportedly in the works for weeks and its launch was proposed following last week’s attacks on two oil tankers, which US officials blamed on Iran, although Iran denies any involvement.

Tensions between the two countries have risen after the US withdrew from the failed 2015 international nuclear deal last year and imposed heavy sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Iran has remained defiant despite the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign”. The extremist Muslim Iranian regime has Russian support and any new conflict in the Middle East could draw in Iran’s more powerful ally.

Iran has been waging a Russian-style campaign in the Middle East, using proxies and deniable engagements, such as the tanker bombings.

On Saturday, a senior spokesperson from the Iranian armed forces warned that a US military strike would trigger a crushing response.

Set the region ablaze

“A military mistake from the enemy, particularly from the US and its regional allies, will be tantamount to firing at a powder keg on which are the US and its interests, and it will set the region ablaze and burn up the US, its interests, and its allies,” Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told the semiofficial Tasnim news agency.

Iranian Hackers Increase Cyber Attacks on US

The cyber strike follows information from the Department of Homeland Security that Iran has recently increased its digital attacks against the US government and US businesses.

Cyber security firms CrowdStrike and FireEye also said that suspected Iranian-backed hackers have targeted US government agencies, as well as critical infrastructure, including oil and gas.

The hackers used phishing emails to try and hack into US systems, although it is unclear if any were successful.

The Department of Homeland Security’s agency tasked with infrastructure protection said in a statement on Saturday that it was aware of a recent rise in cyber activities against the US government by Iranian regime actors and proxies.

“What might start as an account compromise, where you think you might just lose data, can quickly become a situation where you’ve lost your whole network,” said Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs.

The US and Iran have previously engaged in cyber warfare. In 2010, the US and Israel deployed the Stuxnet virus to disrupt centrifuges at an Iranian uranium enrichment facility. And Iran showed its capabilities in 2012 when it infected Saudi state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco with a virus that erased data on 30,000 computers. In 2016, the US indicted seven Iranian hackers for cyber attacks on US financial institutions and a dam in New York.

Image: US Army soldiers defend against simulated Russian cyber attacks.