The US launched a cyber strike against Iranian military computer systems earlier this week as Donald Trump pulled out of airstrikes, officials have reportedly confirmed.
The attacks were conducted with approval from the president on Thursday in response to Iran’s downing of an American surveillance drone, two US officials told The Associated Press.
A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the strike and all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk publicly about the operation.
The cyber attacks – planned by the US Cyber Command over weeks during escalating tensions between the two countries – disabled Iranian intelligence systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said.
Tensions between the two countries have risen since the US pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal last year between Iran and world powers and reinstated sanctions.
But the cyber attack against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was a direct response to attacks on US oil tankers this month and the downing of an unmanned US drone this week – an incident that almost led to a US military strike against Iran on Thursday.
The IRGC – which was designated a foreign terrorist group by the Trump administration earlier this year – is a branch of the Iranian military.
The cyber attacks are the latest chapter in the two countries’ ongoing cyber operations targeting the other.
Most recently, hackers working for the Iranian government have targeted US government agencies, as well as sectors of the economy, including finance, oil and gas, sending waves of spear-phishing emails, according to cybersecurity company representatives from CrowdStrike and FireEye.
It is thought to have started shortly after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector this month.
On Saturday, Mr Trump said he would impose “major” new sanctions on Iran in an effort to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Iran cannot have Nuclear Weapons! Under the terrible Obama plan, they would have been on their way to Nuclear in a short number of years, and existing verification is not acceptable. We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday. I look forward to the day that…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2019
He also said military action was “always on the table” against Iran following recent events, but indicated he was open to reversing the escalation, saying he was willing to quickly reach a deal that would bolster the country’s flagging economy.
“We will call it ‘Let’s make Iran great again’,” Mr Trump said.