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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Experts are split over whether President Trump's move to withdraw from the Iran deal today will cause an escalation in Iranian cyber espionage, either spying or destructive activity.

The big picture: Iran's cyber-espionage program has become fairly sophisticated in recent years, increasing the stealth and efficacy of its malware. But it doesn't take much sophistication to launch many types of destructive attacks — a response Iran pursued five years ago in the wake of the Stuxnet attack on its nuclear program, which is widely credited to the U.S. and Israel.

What they're saying:

  • Robert Lee, chief executive of Dragos, which protects specialized control systems used in factories and power plants, expects "increased targeting of industrial networks," he told Axios via email: "ICS [industrial control system] cyber attacks and espionage can be highly geopolitical in nature. Every time we see increased tension between states we expect to see a rise in ICS targeting."
  • The threat intelligence firm Recorded Future believes that Iran could rush to orchestrate a response to the U.S. move, making the nation's response more chaotic.
    "[O]ur research indicates that because of the need for a quick response, the Islamic Republic may utilize contractors that are less politically and ideologically reliable (and trusted) and as a result, could be more difficult to control," wrote Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development.

The case against: There are strategic reasons for Iran to refrain from mounting any attack.

  • The U.S. move isolates it from the world community by annulling a deal the other parties believe Iran is still respecting.
  • Chief intelligence officer Jeff Bardin of Treadstone 71, a threat intelligence firm, suggests that Trump may have redistributed the U.S.'s global influence to parties more likely to side with Iran.
  • "[Iranian president Hassan] Rouhani still has the ability to work with China, Russia, and the EU over the existing agreement. If anything, this places the U.S. further on the outside of global activities, creating another vacuum where we once stood. Any Iranian overt and targeted hacking at this time against the U.S. would be counterproductive to their aims," Bardin wrote via email.

Vigilance is always in season: Andrea Limbago, of the security firm Endgame, noted a recent indictment of Iranians for espionage and said, "Regardless of today’s news, there already was cause for increased vigilance and defense preparations against Iranian malicious digital activity.”

Go deeper

China launches first astronauts to new space station

The manned Shenzhou-12 spacecraft from China's Manned Space Agency onboard the Long March-2F rocket launches at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China, on Thursday morning Beijing time. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China's Shenzhou 12 mission carrying three astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning Beijing time.

Why it matters: Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are set to occupy China's new space station. This will be the country's longest crewed space mission ever and the first in almost five years.

Biden's two-step negotiating process

President Biden departs Geneva. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Pool/AFP via Getty

President Biden's summit "reset" was less about trying to make a friend out of Russia than reframing what the U.S. believes can be accomplished by engaging with President Vladimir Putin.

Driving the news: The Geneva meeting yielded no immediate breakthroughs beyond agreements about ambassadors returning to work and plans to launch talks on nuclear security. But in classic Biden fashion — aviators on, jacket off and a one-liner about invading Russia he had to clarify was a joke — the U.S. president used a post-summit news conference to explain his approach.

Scoop: NRCC to accept cryptocurrency donations

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Republicans' House campaign arm will begin accepting contributions in cryptocurrency, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The National Republican Congressional Committee is the first national party committee to solicit crypto donations. That puts it at the forefront of a disruptive financial technology that could test campaign finance rules.