A new wave of cyber attacks on US companies have been traced to Iran, American officials told The New York Times.
Security experts said Friday they believed the main goal of the digital weapons, which targeted oil, gas and electricity companies, was sabotage, not espionage.
The fresh attacks “were devised to destroy data and manipulate the machinery that operates critical control systems, like oil pipelines,” the newspaper reported. An official described them as “probes that suggest someone is looking at how to take control of these systems.”
Officials were unclear whether the activity was state-sponsored. The Islamic Republic’s highly-centralized control over the Internet, however, made it hard to imagine the activity went on without the government’s knowledge, officials added.
Government leaders also confirmed on Friday a previous Wall Street Journal report that fingered Iran for the attacks.
Investigators began examining the attacks a few months ago, prompting Homeland Security officials to compare the threat to the computer virus that hit Saudi Arabia’s largest oil producer last year, Aramco. Some 30,000 computers in the Saudi state-owned company were said to be destroyed in the incident.
Iran, for its part, has denied being behind any of the attacks. The spokesman for the country’s mission to the UN, Alireza Miryousefi, responded earlier this week to claims about involvement in the Saudi Arabian digital attacks by stating Iran wasn’t involved in that type of activity and that it has always maintained positive relations with its Persian Gulf neighbors.
Meanwhile, fears of cyber attacks have made legislators in Washington, D.C. consider enacting laws that would help thwart viruses and other cyber threats. The House of Representatives, for example, recently passed a bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which encourages information sharing on threats between the government and private sectors.
US security experts have warned, however, that legislation promoting information sharing isn’t nearly enough to prevent malicious cyber attacks, which have become savvier and adept at penetrating computer systems.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a House Intelligence Committee member who represents California, told CNN Friday that officials were seeing “disturbing indications” that Iranian-linked groups were targeting US infrastructure.
“The Iranians seem less interested in stealing our military secrets or stealing how we’re going to make the next Apple product,” Schiff told the news outlet. “They’re more interested in probing our vulnerabilities – our financial structure vulnerabilities, our critical infrastructure vulnerabilities, so they can attack us – literally shut down, manipulate – cause an industrial accident.”