Iran Cyber Attack Is Part of Washington’s ‘Defending Forward’ Cyber Strategy

The U.S. Cyber Command, with the green light from President Trump, launched a cyber attack against Iran's missile launching systems.Pres. Trump approved the attack against Iran's missile systems. Photo: Christiaan Colen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

When Iran shot down U.S. unmanned surveillance drone, Washington exercised major restraint by not going on an all-out offensive with its physical-military. Instead, the U.S. government decided to take everything online and digital; like how people living in 2019 do.

Reports revealed that on Thursday, President Donald Trump hit the green light to carry out a coordinated cyber attack against Iran’s missile control systems that hold Iran’s rocket and missile launches. Individuals, who are particular in the matter, said that the cyber attack had been planned for weeks (if not months), and only on the night of June 20th did Trump decided to carry it out.

Involvement of the newly promoted combatant organization, the U.S. Cyber Command

The U.S. Cyber Command conducted the operation as per the confirmation of the Pentagon, who discussed that the officials behind it were already planning of launching the cyber attack since Iran’s alleged attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this month.

Furthermore, coordination with the U.S. Central Command was also made to attack the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The U.S. Central Command is a military organization that leads to operations involving the Middle East.

This operation became the first significant cyber warfare activity involving the Cyber Command since the organization was promoted to a full combatant command in May. It leveraged new authorities, granted by the president, that has streamlined the approval process for such measures.

Reports also suggest that it is the first of the many plans of the U.S. to launch a cyber command strategy called “defending forward.” The organizations head, Gen. Paul Nakasone, has defined it as operating “against our enemies on their virtual territory.”

When pressed for comments and further details regarding the cyber operation against Iran, the U.S. government refused to explain further, citing that more information regarding it will compromise the still ongoing operation.

Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith said, “as a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning.”

Impact of the attack

The attacks — fully-equipped with military command and control systems — do not cause human casualties or loss of life. This idea contrasts conventional strikes, which the president said: “would not be proportionate.”

“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 cybersecurity official in the Trump administration.

“Our U.S. 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 U.S. Navy has to do to defend itself at sea and keep international shipping lanes free from Iranian disruption.”

Nonetheless, the attack can be viewed as a provocation from the U.S., and high-officials are warning the U.S. government to stay vigilant for a possible counter-attack from Iran. As of the moment, it is still unclear how Iran responded to the cyberattacks against its missile control systems.

Washington’s intensified cyber offensive strategy

The new attack of the U.S. against Iran shows the growing trend of leveraging technology and cyber warfare, as part of a country’s overall political strategy. They’re not just used to achieve long-term goals, as was the case when Stuxnet sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program. Under the elevated Cyber Command, they’re coming into play for short-term actions that could disable immediate threats and apply political pressure.

Only recently, the U.S. has also intensified its cyber warfare offensive against Russia that aims to target its power grid system. Reports revealed that the escalation is a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin, and a demonstration of how the Trump administration can use technology to fight back against Russia, said current and past government officials.

In previous interviews, the officials discussed the deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

The United States previously warned that Russia has been targeting American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will. They said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. The attackers had compromised some operators in North America and Europe by spring 2017 after President Trump was inaugurated.

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