Iran May Resume Cyber Program Amidst Souring U.S. Relations

One of the most concerning developments as of late in Washington has been President Trump’s refusal to reaffirm the US nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The president had been repeatedly warned by his closest cabinet members to not offset the status quo with the Iran deal, and much can be made for the case that Trump’s move will only fuel hardliners in Washington and undermine the position of more stable moderates.  

The long-term political implications of Trump’s move are yet to be fully understood. Far from being a complete pull out of the international deal brokered by the Obama administration in 2015, Trump’s refusal to reaffirm essentially punts the status of the deal to Congress for further review.

The question of the hour is: Will there be repercussions from Iran, and if so what might they look like?

To be sure, the current state of affairs as determined by the Iran deal are very much in Iran’s favor. In addition to the relieving of international sanctions, Iran also gets to enjoy somewhat of a perception of “playing ball” with the international community instead of the terror-promoting state that it actually is, and has been for over thirty years. Iran does not want to do anything that might break this delicate and highly beneficial set of circumstances. This has been made clear by top Iranian diplomats, with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif going so far as to say that Iran would continue to abide by the deal even of the US rescinded completely.

However, the possibility certainly exists that Iran will lash out, albeit covertly, in an effort to retaliate and show that it will not take Trump’s decision quietly.

The most likely front on which Iran is expected to hit back would be cyber.   

This theory is far from baseless conjecture. Iran, which maintains a fully modernized military and defense infrastructure, is no novice when it comes to state-backed hacking. In a recent report, British intelligence officials reported that a series of hacks in June which targeted several Parliament members, including Prime Minister Theresa May, was executed by cyber criminals connected to the Iranian government. The hacks affected some 9,000 accounts and exposed approximately 100 sensitive communications.

Largely forgotten is the era in which Iranian linked hackers persistently targeted US infrastructure with cyber assaults, even managing to infiltrate the digital system of a dam in New York State. But that was before the negotiations for curbing sanctions started in 2013. Since then, hackers have let up on US targets, and focused largely on rivals in the Middle East.

This could change in light of Trump’s recent actions. As several experts have begun to attest to, the refusal of the administration to reaffirm the deal could reignite the trend of hacks that came to an end five years ago.

Adding further stress to the situation is Trump’s recent decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terror group in a recent speech, and call for further sanctions against the organization.

Trump’s words did not go unanswered, moving Iran’s Communications Minister to openly threaten the US military, saying the American troops, especially those stationed in the Middle East would themselves be treated as terrorists.

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