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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

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

2 hours ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.