Iran has stepped up its cyberattacks against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, according to two cybersecurity firms.
The hackers have targeted government agencies as well as sectors of the economy, including oil and gas, with a series of spear-phishing emails, representatives of cybersecurity firms CrowdStrike and FireEye, which regularly track such activity, told The Associated Press.
“Both sides are desperate to know what the other side is thinking,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye. “You can absolutely expect the regime to be leveraging every tool they have available to reduce the uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, about what the U.S.’s next move will be.”
It wasn’t clear if the hackers gained access to any of the targeted networks.
One such email shared with the AP appeared to come from the Executive Office of the President trying to recruit for an economic adviser position. Another email was more general and seemed to include details on updating Microsoft Outlook’s global address book.
“CISA is aware of a recent rise in malicious cyber activity directed at United States industries and government agencies by Iranian regime actors and proxies. We will continue to work with our intelligence community and cybersecurity partners to monitor Iranian cyber activity, share information, and take steps to keep America and our allies safe," the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher C. Krebs said in a statement.
“In times like these it’s important to make sure you’ve shored up your basic defenses, like using multi-factor authentication, and if you suspect an incident - take it seriously and act quickly."
The cyberattacks represent a new front in escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran that were first sparked by last week’s attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, for which Washington blamed Tehran.
The U.S. responded by announcing the deployment of 1,000 additional troops, which was followed up by an Iranian threat to surpass the limit on its uranium enrichment imposed by an Obama-era nuclear pact.
Washington and Tehran inched even closer to a military clash this week after Iran downed an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone that the Pentagon says was over international waters. President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE authorized retaliatory military strikes but pulled back after learning that up to 150 Iranians could be killed.
Updated at 3:43 p.m.