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Exclusive: The US carried out a secret cyber strike against Iran following the oil attack in Saudi Arabia



WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Following the September 14 attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities that Washington and Riad Tehran accuse, the United States conducted a cyber secret operation against Iran. Two US officials blamed Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: A man typing on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this illustration file image of February 28, 2013. Kacper Pempel // File Photo

The officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the operation had taken place in late September and target Tehran's ability to spread "propaganda".

One of the officers said the strike affected physical hardware but did not provide any further details.

It shows how President Donald Trump's administration has tried to counter what it sees as Iranian aggression without leading to a major conflict.

The strike appears to be more limited this year than other such operations against Iran after an American drone was shot down in June and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards allegedly attacked oil tankers in the Gulf in May.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany publicly accused the attack on Iran on September 14, which denied participation in the strike. The Iranian-oriented militant Houthi group in Yemen took responsibility.

The Pentagon has publicly deployed thousands of additional troops and equipment to strengthen the Saudi defense, the region's most recent US deployment this year.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the cyber strike.

"For political and operational security reasons, cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning are not discussed," said Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith.

The effects of the attack, if any, can take months, but cyber strikes are considered a less provocative option below the threshold of war.

"You can do harm without killing people or blowing things up; The toolkit has been enhanced with an option we did not have before and our willingness to use it is important, "said James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Lewis added that it may not be possible to prevent Iranian behavior with conventional military strikes.

Tensions in the Gulf region have increased sharply since May 2018, when Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Action Plan with Tehran, which curtailed its nuclear program to ease sanctions.

It was unclear whether US cyber attacks had occurred since the end of September.

Iran has used such tactics against the United States. This month, a hacking group, which appears to be in contact with the Iranian government, attempted to infiltrate e-mail accounts related to Trump's re-election campaign.

In 30 days in August and September, the group called "Phosphorus" by Microsoft made more than 2,700 attempts to identify consumer accounts and attacked 241 of them.

Tehran is also considered one of the main players in the dissemination of disinformation.

Last year, a Reuters investigation found more than 70 websites driving Iranian propaganda to 15 countries. This operation is only being discovered by cyber security experts, social media companies and journalists.

Tensions with Iran have been high since the September 14 attack. Tehran has claimed that an Iranian tanker was hit by rockets in the Red Sea last week and warned on Monday that there would be consequences.

At a press conference on Monday, President Hassan Rouhani reiterated his country's policy toward the Trump administration and concluded bilateral talks, unless Washington returns to the landmark nuclear deal and lifts the crippling US economic sanctions.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart. Edited by Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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