Two anonymous United States officials have confirmed to Reuters reporters that the U.S. carried out cyberattacks against Iran in retaliation for their alleged involvement in September drone and missile attacks on oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia.
One U.S. official told Reuters the attack would have affected physical hardware, but did not specify how that would have been done through cyber means. According to Reuters, the attack was smaller in scale than previous cyber operations against Iran.
Since the Sept. 14 attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, both Saudi Arabian and U.S. officials have blamed Iran. Britain, France and Germany have also joined the assessment blaming Iran for the attack despite Iran’s denial and deferral to the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have previously claimed credit for the coordinated drone and missile strike that forced the shut down of nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production capability.
While U.S. officials have cast doubt on the claims of the Houthi rebels, President Donald Trump has not officially authorized military strikes against Iran. Trump has instead added economic sanctions against Iran and placed additional U.S. troops and Patriot missile batteries on the Arabian peninsula to deter a future Iranian attack.
The prospect of additional U.S. cyberattacks may appear to add to the U.S. retaliation against Iran without resulting in a full military conflict.
“You can do damage without killing people or blowing things up; it adds an option to the toolkit that we didn’t have before and our willingness to use it is important,” James Lewis, a cyber expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Reuters.
The Pentagon itself has declined to comment about the cyber strike.
“As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence, or planning,” Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith told Reuters.
Iran’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi also denied the cyber attack and told Iran’s Fars News outlet the U.S. “must have dreamt it.”
The Iranian technology minister’s denial seemed to run in contrast to the claims of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who accused the U.S. of carrying out cyberattacks against Iranian nuclear facilities during a September appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. During the interview, the Iranian foreign minister warned that Iran and the U.S. were actively engaged in a “cyberwar.”
The fallout of any U.S. cyberattack against Iran may take months to assess, according to Reuters.
In recent weeks the major U.S. technology company, Microsoft, uncovered alleged Iranian hacking efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election by targeting U.S. presidential candidates, government officials, and journalists.