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Trump approved cyberattacks on Iranian missile systems

US President Donald Trump attends a special session entitled 'Fair And Sustainable Future' as part of G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 30 November, 2018 [Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency]
US President Donald Trump attends a special session entitled 'Fair And Sustainable Future' as part of G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 30 November 2018 [Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency]

US President Donald Trump approved a cyberattack that neutralized Iranian computer systems that activate rocket and missile launches, The Washington Post reported Saturday, citing US officials, says Haaretz.

According to the Washington post, the US Cyber Command launched Thursday night the cyberattacks that had been planned for several weeks, according to two of the people familiar with the matter, who said the Pentagon proposed the move after Iran allegedly hit two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this month.

On Friday, The New York Times reported that Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the downing of a US military drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile on Thursday, but pulled back after planes were in air and ships were in position. Trump tweeted overnight Saturday that he never pulled the strike against Iran back, but merely "stopped it from going forward at this time."

The cyber strike against the Iran Revolutionary Guards was coordinated with US Central Command, the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were cited by the newspaper as saying.

Although it disabled Iran's military command and control systems, the operation did not involve casualties nor were missiles fired.

Both the White House and officials at US Cyber Command declined to comment on the matter. "As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning," Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith said.

"This operation imposes costs on the growing Iranian cyber threat, but also serves to defend the United States Navy and shipping operations in the Strait of Hormuz," said Thomas Bossert, a former senior White House cyber official in the Trump administration.

"Our US military has long known that we could sink every IRGC vessel in the strait within 24 hours if necessary. And this is the modern version of what the US Navy has to do to defend itself at sea and keep international shipping lanes free from Iranian disruption," Bossert said.

Thursday's cyber strikes against the IRGC constitute the first display of power since Cyber Command was elevated to a full combatant command in May.

"This is not something they can put back together so easily," said one person, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two officials said the cyber strike is an example of what National Security Adviser John Bolton meant when he said the United States is bolstering cyber activity. "We're now opening the aperture, broadening the areas we're prepared to act in," Bolton said at a Wall Street Journal conference.

READ: Iran's Khamenei calls for fight against enemy 'infiltration'

 "There's no question that there's been an increase in Iranian cyber activity," said Christopher Krebs, director of DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. "Iranian actors and their proxies are not just your garden variety run-of-the-mill data thieves. These are the guys that come in and they burn the house down." He added:

We need everyone to take the current situation very seriously. Look at any potential incidents that you have and treat them as a worst-case scenario. This is not you waiting until you have a data breach . . . This is about losing control of your environment, about losing control of your computer.

Analysts in the private sector said that "In the last year, [Iran's cyber] activity has sped up.''

"In the last six months, we saw another hike. And last week, we saw additional activity," said Robert M. Lee, co-founder of the cyber-firm Dragos, who conducted cyber operations for the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command from 2011 to 2015.

"The reality is we've been seeing more and more aggressive activity for quite some time," he said. It's just getting worse."

OPINION: Why US sanctions won't change Iran's foreign policy

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States would intensify its economic pressure on Iran until Tehran forgoes violence and engages with US diplomatic efforts.

"We are willing to engage when the time is right," Pompeo said in a statement on Saturday. He said when Tehran decides "to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it knows how to reach us."

Iran Deal - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Iran Deal – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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