Iran Reportedly Steps Up Cyberattacks

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 13 2012 4:00 PM

Officials: Iran Stepping Up Cyberattacks Against U.S. Targets

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US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned of "a cyber Pearl Harbor"

Photo by THIERRY CHARLIER/AFP/GettyImages

Hackers with ties to the Iranian government have been increasing cyberattacks aimed at U.S. targets over the last few months, with some officials assuming it’s Tehran’s way of retaliating against sanctions, reports the Wall Street Journal. The targets of the attacks include U.S. banks as well as energy companies in the Persian Gulf.

Although officials say the detailed evidence of what ties the attacks to Tehran is classified, experts say regular hackers don’t have the resources to mount such major attacks without government help. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the cyberattacks on the oil and gas companies amounted to what was probably the most destructive attacks the private sector has ever experienced. And while he didn’t directly link them to Iran publicly, he did say that Tehran has “"undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage,” reports the Associated Press.

Panetta didn’t mince words about the potential devastation that could result from these types of attacks, warning they could amount to “a cyber Pearl Harbor.” The attack used a computer virus called “Shamoon,” reports CBS News.

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U.S. banks were the first to face the threat, with attacks largely seen as small-scale. Then they expanded to oil and gas companies in the Persian Gulf and Middle East over the summer, and then banks were attacked once again, only this time the attacks were far more potent.

"They have been going after everyone—financial services, Wall Street," a senior defense official tells the Wall Street Journal. "Is there a cyberwar going on? It depends on how you define 'war.'"

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.