Iran’s retaliation for the U S’s targeted killing of its top general, Qassem Soleimani, is likely to include cyber-attacks, security experts warned on Friday January 3rd. Iran’s state-backed hackers are already among the world most active, and could inject malware that would trigger major disruptions to the US public, and private sector, according to AP.
Potential targets include manufacturing facilities, oil and gas plants and transit systems. A top US cyber security official is warning businesses and government agencies to be extra vigilant. Iran has been doing a lot of testing of critical US industrial systems in recent years, trying to gain access, but has limited its destructive attacks to targets in the Middle East, experts say.
In 2012 and 2013, in response to US sanctions, Iranian state-backed hackers carried out a series of disruptive denial-of-service attacks that knocked offline the websites of major US banks, including Bank of America, as well as the New York Stock Exchange, and NASDAQ.
“Our concern is essentially that things are going to go back to the way they were before the agreement,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at the cyber security firm, FireEye. “There are opportunities for them to cause real disruption and destruction.”
President Donald Trump has reiterated that since the attack on the US embassy in Iraq, on the last day of 2019, that he was not interested in further escalation of the conflict, but warned the Iranian regime that his military advisers have already drawn up plans to retaliate should Iran attack. “If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified, and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary, and that in particular refers to Iran,” Trump said.
This is despite that the US-led coalition, which is still fighting terror group Isis, and which has denied any recent involvement in strikes near Camp Taji, in Iraq, north of Baghdad, including alleged airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, according to Reuters. Criticism has come from some observers inside the US, marking their concern that the US administration might involve its military in a confrontation with the Iranian regime, which might lead to an unwanted war in the Gulf.
The US airstrike on Friday January 3rd, that killed top Iranian leader, Qassem Soleimani, was a ' necessity' according to some US experts. The shadowy Iranian general and power broker, who ran Iran’s proxy forces was responsible, according to the Pentagon, for the deaths of hundreds of American troops in Iraq. White House officials said Trump decided to take action because Soleimani was plotting unspecified future attacks targeting Americans, as tensions between the US and Iran have reached close to boiling point.
In the same context, on Friday January 3rd, the US Department of State announced it would designate the paramilitary based group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), as a foreign terrorist organisation, along with two of the Iraqi Shiite militia group’s leaders, Qais al-Khazali and Laith al-Khazali. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo described the group, and its leaders as “violent proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The AAH is an Iranian-backed Shiite militia and political party, operating primarily in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Lebanon. The group is implicated in numerous acts of sectarian violence and potential war crimes in Iraq and Syria.