Shortly after Iran shot down a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz in June, the U.S. launched a secret cyberattack that took out an Iranian database used by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to plan attacks against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
Many of the system’s computers are still shut down and the initiative is believed to have crippled Iran’s capacity to seize or block ships in the Gulf, according a report in the New York Times.
Mounting tensions between the two countries have prompted concern that conflicts would erupt in the Gulf, but President Trump pulled back from retaliating against Iran after it downed the drone. The two have a history of engaging in covert cyberattacks.
The U.S. set a cyber warfare precedent in 2007 when it allegedly collaborated with Israel to launch the Stuxnet worm attack that physically sabotaged Iranian nuclear facilities, impeding its nuclear program. Additionally, the U.S. reportedly drew up a contingency plan dubbed Nitro-Zeus that involved launching cyberattacks against Iran’s critical infrastructure in the event of military aggression from the Middle Eastern regime.
“Over the decade that Iranians have been engaged in cyber operations, threat actors seemingly arise from nowhere and operate in a dedicated manner until their campaigns dissipate, often due to their discovery by researchers,” according to January 2018 white paper, “Iran’s Cyber Threat: Espionage, Sabotage, and Revenge,” from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.