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Wed. 9:05 a.m.: US braces for possible cyberattacks after Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is bracing for cyberattacks Iran could launch in retaliation for the re-imposition of sanctions this week by President Donald Trump, cybersecurity and intelligence experts say.

Concern over that cyber threat has been rising since May, when Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, under which the U.S. and other world powers eased economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. The experts say the threat would intensify following Washington’s move Tuesday to re-impose economic restrictions on Tehran.

“While we have no specific threats, we have seen an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity over the past several weeks,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a global real-time cyber threat intelligence company. The Massachusetts-based company predicted back in May that the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement would provoke a cyber response from the Iranian government within two to four months.

U.S. intelligence agencies have singled out Iran as one of the main foreign cyber threats facing America, along with Russia, China and North Korea. A wave of attacks that U.S. authorities blamed on Iran between 2012 and 2014 targeted banks and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. They also targeted but failed to penetrate critical infrastructure.

Iran denies using its cyber capabilities for offensive purposes, and accuses the U.S. of targeting Iran. Several years ago, the top-secret Stuxnet computer virus destroyed centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet, which is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, caused thousands of centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility to spin themselves to destruction at the height of the West’s fears over Iran’s program.

“The United States has been the most aggressive country in the world in offensive cyber activity and publicly boasted about attacking targets across the world,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s diplomatic mission at the United Nations, contending that Iran’s cyber capabilities are “exclusively for defensive purposes.”

Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who heads the elite Quds Force of Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, has sounded more ominous, warning late last month about Iran’s capabilities in “asymmetric war,” a veiled reference to nontraditional warfare that could include cyber attacks.

The Trump administration says it re-imposed sanctions on Iran to prevent its aggression — denying it the funds it needs to finance terrorism, its missile program and forces in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

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