Foreign Policy

Trump Authorizes Cyber Operations Against Iran

United States Cyber Command conducted online attacks against an intelligence group in Iran this past Thursday. American officials believe the group in question helped to plan the attacks against two oil tankers in recent weeks, according to those briefed about the operation. 

The attack occurred on the same day that President Trump called off a physical attack on Iranian targets, including missile batteries and radar facilities. The reason the cyber attacks were still conducted is because they are considered to be below armed conflict and similar to tactics used by Iran. 

The attacks had been planned for a number of weeks, and were intended as a response to both oil tanker attacks in recent weeks and the downing of an American drone this past week. The White House is also pressing for additional options, including more cyberspace attacks, to deter Iranian attacks better. 

As well as the attacks on the intelligence agency, there are reports that another breach targeted the computer systems responsible for Iranian missile facilities. It is difficult to judge the effectiveness of such a cyber attack, as the only way to know for sure it worked would be for Iran to attempt to launch a missile and fail. 

The attacks were first reported by Yahoo News on Friday. Not many details are known about the attack, but it was intended to temporarily shut down the intelligence group, like the attack that brought down the Russian Internet Research Agency during – and after – the midterm elections in November. 

Christopher C. Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland's cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), issued a warning over Iranian attacks on American agencies and industries, saying that there was an increase in “malicious cyberactivity.” 

Iranian attacks are about more than just money and data. They also aim to take down entire networks and delete data. What can begin as a basic compromise, where there could be little data loss, can soon become a situation where an entire network disappears. 

Outside of these cyber attacks, American military and intelligence officials are hoping to devise operations that wouldn’t escalate tensions between America and Iran but would still deter further aggression and cause Tehran to call off, or at least scale back, the “shadow war.” 

Tensions between the two countries have flared in recent weeks. The US administration has accused Iran of being responsible for explosions that crippled two oil tankers – which Iran denies – and then an American drone was brought down this past Thursday. 

The decision to call off the military strikes – even as the planes and ships were in position ready to fire – has allowed Tehran the chance to attempt to de-escalate tensions. If Iran targets more oil tankers or launches more missiles, then the United States must tack further action to deter Iran from engaging in any form of aggression, according to current and former officials. 

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