According to experts, one of the ways that Iran could take revenge on the United States for having killed the country’s top general Qasem Soleimani in a air strike ordered by President Donald Trump was through cyber attacks.
“Iran has a long history of politically motivated cyber attacks across the world,” Evercore analysts Ken Talanian and Kirk Materne wrote to investors in a note. “The attacks often follow closely to changes in [US] sanctions.”
The killing of Soleimani, the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and the second most powerful leader of Iran, has been vowed to be revenged harshly by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Soleimani was responsible for many of the deadly attacks in the Middle East, the Trump administration had claimed as a justification for the action against him.
Soleimani was revered by Iran as a national hero.
It is likely that Iran would use cyber attacks to inflict damage on the US, believe experts, even though Tehran has in its possession other methods to retaliate such as use of its large military, Iranian-backed proxies around the Middle East and its elaborate disinformation operations.
“Killing Soleimani crossed a significant threshold in the US-Iran conflict,” said Kiersten Todt, managing director of the Cyber Readiness Institute. “Iranians will certainly try to retaliate — definitely in the region and they will also look at options in our homeland. Of the options available to them, cyber is most compelling.”
“First, they’re more deniable. If there is a missile attack on a US base or a diplomat is kidnapped, that’s much more easily traceable,” he said. “Second, it doesn’t risk your own personnel,” said Columbia University computer science professor Steven Bellovin in a television interview while explaining some of the advantages of cyber attacks. “Second, it doesn’t risk your own personnel,” he added.
Past incidents have shown that there are strong cyber capabilities with Iran. Large “denial of service” attacks were used against major banks like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo by Iranian hackers between late 2011 to mid-2013. The attack prevented account holders of the banks to log into their accounts and gain access to their money. The websites of the banks had crashed because of an excess of traffic. A New York grand jury had indicted seven Iranians in 2016 for the hacking. Two Iranian companies that worked for the Iranian government had employed the seven accused people.
Todt said Iran’s “capabilities and resources have increased” since those hacks.
The control system of a New York dam were hacked by Iran based hackers in 2013 which raised concerns that targeting of American infrastructure could also be done by such Iranian hackers. In the case of hacking of hundreds of universities and companies for stealing the data and the intellectual property stored in their servers saw charges being framed against nine Iranians in 2018.
“We should expect an Iranian attempt against our infrastructure,” said Todt. “But the US government is aware of the intent and capabilities of Iran and is prepared for its response.”
“The most important thing to realize is that this is going to be a marathon not a sprint,” said Bellovin. “It might take Iran a few years to develop an attack against a particular target… will people stay alert for that long?”
(Adapted from CNN.com)